Further analysis into the impact of tougher climate goals on EU member states is needed before Poland can sign up to the European Commission’s proposed 55% greenhouse gas reduction target for 2030, a senior Polish minister has said.
“In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impact, the Commission proposal on the 2030 target, as well as its effects on the member states, requires in-depth analysis,” said Michał Kurtyka, Poland’s Minister of Climate and Environment.
“We are lacking this information as we do not know what an increased target means for member states, for regions and for sectors,” he added in a video address opening a EURACTIV debate on Tuesday (17 November).
The European Commission has proposed a 55% emissions reduction target by 2030, branding climate action and the European Green Deal as the EU’s “new growth strategy”. The European Parliament, for its part, voted for a 60% emissions reduction target.
The European Council, the body bringing together the EU’s 27 heads of states and government, held a first discussion on the 2030 climate plan during a summit in October.
But EU leaders delayed their decision until December after several Eastern countries, led by Poland, refused to sign up and pushed for summit conclusions inviting the Commission to “conduct in-depth consultations with member states” to assess their specific national situations.
Poland digs in heels
One month after the October summit, little progress has been made, with Poland still digging in its heels on the EU’s proposed 2030 climate plan.
“We do not want to enforce radical changes without the full view of the consequences,” Kurtyka insisted, saying EU countries have different energy systems and national circumstances that need to be taken into account.
“A fair distribution of costs and benefits” must be ensured in the transition, Kurtyka stressed, saying the EU’s “credibility in the implementation of climate policy” was at stake as Europe goes through an unprecedented economic recession caused by the COVID-19 crisis.
“During this crisis, it is crucial to have the flexibility to choose the path of transition that will enable the member states to achieve shared objectives,” the minister said.
A video meeting of EU leaders, held on Thursday (19 November), did not register any breakthrough on the 2030 climate plan, after Poland and Hungary vetoed an agreement on the EU’s €1.8 trillion budget and recovery fund for the next seven years (2021-2027).
Warsaw and Budapest continue to oppose a rule-of-law mechanism which would allow EU funds to be suspended in case EU values are breached or when money is mishandled.
Speaking at the EURACTIV event, a senior EU official said discussions with EU countries were still in progress. “They are fruitful and in-depth discussions,” said Clara de la Torre, deputy director-general at the Commission’s climate department.
In his video address, Kurtyka said EU climate targets had to be ambitious but realistic at the same time, while ensuring coal regions and workers are not left behind.
In the European Parliament, hardly anyone would disagree. “We have real issues in the green transition in ensuring that we get everybody onboard, that we have all countries and regions onboard,” admitted Morten Petersen, a Danish centrist MEP who is vice-chair of the European Parliament’s industry committee.
But Petersen insisted that strong goals are required to drive ambition on climate change, pointing out that Denmark has a 70% climate target for 2030.
Among EU member states, many are now pushing Poland and Hungary to agree the 2030 target plan and lift their veto on the EU’s €1.8 trillion budget deal, which contains funds for the energy transition in both countries.
“We need to have funding in place and learning about yesterday’s news with Poland and Hungary blocking the budget is obviously not very helpful when talking about financing the green transition and ensuring that there’s money on the table for a just transition mechanism,” said Petersen.
Countries like Poland say they are onboard with the transition, but point to a financing gap worth tens of billions of euros they say are needed to phase out coal and reach the EU’s 2030 goals.
The revised emissions trading scheme (ETS) will be a vital element to closing this gap, according to Pawel Cioch, Member of the Management Board of PKEE, the Polish electricity industry association, which supported the EURACTIV event.
“Reaching the new targets for 2030 is a huge effort. The reason of course is the completely different starting point of Poland,” Cioch said. “We need specially dedicated support from EU funds and additional allowances from the solidarity pool,” he added.
Cioch refused to say when coal would be fully phased out in Poland, saying this depends on the availability of new electricity generation capacity like gas.
“This is an enormous burden for member states, especially the ones more dependent on a high share of fossil fuel in the energy mix and higher greenhouse gas emissions,” said Robert Jeszke, from the Centre for Climate and Energy Analysis in Poland. And lower-income countries in the EU’s east will carry a higher burden than the average, he pointed out.
De la Torre admitted that the EU carbon market alone will not be enough to close the funding gap, and pointed to other sources of funding, like the just transition fund and the coronavirus recovery fund, which are currently blocked by Warsaw and Budapest.
The EU’s flagship carbon market, the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), also includes a modernisation fund and a solidarity provision aimed at supporting lower income countries in their transition away from coal.
“We are confident following the independent analysis we have done that we can reach this 55% decrease in emissions by 2030. It is logically possible and from an economic point of view it does make sense,” de la Torre said.
(Edited by Frédéric Simon)