Green jobs and competitiveness will feature high on the incoming European Commission’s agenda as it takes on the challenge of delivering on pledges to lead the world in combating climate change.
As the global community prepares to meet in Copenhagen in December to hammer out a new international climate treaty, the next Commission will have to translate tougher climate commitments into policies while resuscitating Europe’s ailing economy.
A general consensus has emerged that the answer is to deliver a ‘Green New Deal’ to help Europe meet the climate challenge, create new employment and boost low-carbon industries.
This was what incumbent and continuing Commission President José Manuel Barroso had in mind when he detailed his priorities for the next five years to the European Parliament. He said that the next EU executive would concentrate on designing a favourable regulatory environment to foster the uptake of low-carbon technologies by European businesses.
“An industrial base which is modernised to use and produce environmental-friendly technologies and which exploits the potential for energy efficiency is the key to sustainable growth in Europe,” Barroso wrote in his guidelines.
Climate campaigners are hoping that the Commission will push for greater emphasis to be put on renewable energies and energy efficiency rather than propping up nuclear and clean coal technologies.
“The challenge for the next Commission will be to develop a blueprint detailing the structural changes that will be necessary for Europe’s transition to a sustainable economy. Dwindling natural resources, unemployment and CO2 emissions are only some of the problems that can be addressed by developing clean and efficient energy,” said Joris den Blanken, Greenpeace EU’s climate and energy director.
In any case, energy efficiency improvements, which unlike renewable energies and emission cuts are not supported by binding targets, will receive ever more attention. The incoming Commission will need to implement the EU’s new Energy Efficiency Action Plan, which the outgoing EU executive is planning to present next month.
Implementing Copenhagen agreement
The climate and energy package negotiated in December 2008 was a landmark of the outgoing Commission’s vision for an integrated approach to climate change mitigation. But depending on the level of ambition of the new international climate treaty, the EU executive will have to rethink the adequacy of existing policies.
The EU has pledged to upgrade its emissions reduction goal from 20% below 1990 levels to 30% by 2020 if other industrialised nations make similar commitments. But scientists say cuts to the tune of up to 40% are required from developed countries for there to be a fair chance of keeping global warming at sustainable levels.
“This of course cannot be achieved with ‘business as usual’, and fundamental changes will be needed in current climate and energy policies, boosting energy efficency and renewables. A complete overhaul is also needed in other policy areas such as transport, housing and agriculture,” said Esther Bollendorff, climate and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe.
Moreover, an ambitious agreement would need to come with a requirement to provide developing countries with substantial funding to help them tackle climate change and adapt to its inevitable consequences.
So far, the EU’s flagship climate instrument, its emissions trading scheme (EU ETS; see EURACTIV LinksDossier) only recommends that member states spend half of their revenue on climate activities. But the Commission’s blueprint for international financing foresees using these proceeds to finance efforts in developing countries.
“The ETS is promising in principle, but the cap is too lenient and won’t decarbonise electricity nearly on time,” said Jason Anderson, head of European climate and energy policy at WWF. He further criticised generous provisions allowing governments to use offset credits to count emissions cuts made abroad towards national targets.
“Barroso may create green jobs, but they won’t be in Europe if he doesn’t staunch the flow of offset crediting to meet our targets,” Anderson argued.
Taking on transport emissions
One way to upgrade the EU’s climate efforts will be to tackle CO2 emissions from the transport sector. Environmentalists have long urged the EU executive to address the glaring omission of transport from its climate and energy agenda.
Although directives on renewables, clean cars and fuel quality, part of the EU’s climate and energy package, include cars in the bloc’s efforts to fight climate change, voices calling for a more integrated agenda are likely to grow louder. If the Union is to reach its climate goals, it will have to ensure that soaring emissions from transport do not compromise CO2 cuts in the power and industry sectors.
Christian Egenhofer, senior research fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), called on the Commission to draw up a transport and climate change package comparable to that in place for energy and climate change policy. “This package must give answers to fundamental strategic questions about what a sustainable EU transport system should look like and how it can be achieved,” he said.
Detailing his priorities for the next five years, President Barroso pledged to move towards decarbonising all transport modes, including maritime and aviation. He also said the EU would press ahead with developing clean and electric cars.
Precautions to protect European industry
Nevertheless, national capitals are already anxious about protecting domestic industries in case an agreement in Copenhagen fails to reassure them that their main competitors will put similar climate policies in place.
France has already started pushing for carbon adjustment tariffs at the EU’s borders (EURACTIV 14/09/09). This would involve levying a CO2 tax on imports into the Union from regions that do not impose a carbon price on their industries.
Many EU member states are still apprehensive about the implications such a move would have on deadlocked global negotiations. They are concerned about a rebuke from nations like China, which could contest the tax as a protectionist measure under WTO rules.
But the French have legal arguments in favour of a CO2 tax, after the WTO this summer said such tariffs would be possible if designed properly. Germany has since joined its neighbour (EURACTIV 18/09/09), and the US is considering a similar measure as part of its draft climate bill.
In addition, the Commission will be busy designing the conditions under which industries deemed exposed to international competition can receive free permits to pollute. On 21 September, member states approved a list of industrial sectors that the EU executive deems to be in danger of relocating to areas without restrictions on emissions, dubbed “carbon leakage” (EURACTIV 21/09/09).
The next Commission will be busy setting the benchmarks according to which the number of free permits for each installation are calculated. As only the 10% most efficient installations will get all their allowances for free, a heated debate is expected as industries will try to secure as large a free allocation as possible.