EU climate package cannot be held hostage by shortsighted solutions

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Climate campaigners. London, 2009. [Takver/Flickr]

It is not possible for Western European countries to consider Central and Eastern Europeans on the same level of development, like it is not possible for them to reconsider common minimum targets on reduction of emissions, energy efficiency and the energy mix share of renewables, writes Floris Faber.

Floris Faber is General Secretary of APRODEV (European coalition of faith-based development NGOs).

During the last decade, an increasing number of extreme weather events have been scientifically proven to be one of the first direct and visible consequences of a change of climate caused by human activities. Central and Eastern Europe is not spared as heatwaves, droughts and floods occurred again this year with both devastating human and environmental consequences.

Last year, for the first time in human history, the global concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere broke an unprecedented record, thus putting the future of our civilisation at risk and requiring greater efforts to curtail CO2 emissions from burning coal, gas and oil.

On the one hand, strong measures to pollute less and decarbonize our economies are necessary if we want to keep global warming below the level which threatens the human race. On the other hand, European dependence on fossil fuels, in particular on Russian gas, threatens our geopolitical independence, our lives, our capacity to produce affordable energy, and precludes local and cheaper alternatives to develop.

A direct response to the new geopolitical order drove Central and Eastern European governments to increase their domestic production of energy using conventional resources such as coal, to ensure greater autonomy and independence towards Russia which proved once again its untrustworthy and deadly influence in Ukraine this year. Energy autonomy is the right political path to ensure security and sustainability, as well as to develop a more adequate economy for all. But on what terms?

Fossil fuels get more and more expensive, leading to preferential use of coal than oil and gas at a greater cost to human health. Moreover, coal is a finite resource, and its use for production of electricity must be subsidized, otherwise it would be unaffordable for most of the population and companies. Meanwhile, big industries try to convince us that clean coal is possible, although every scientist and governmental expert knows that these technologies will need more than a few decades to be operational, and at the expense of billions of public investment money. Does this mean we should continue in this direction, endangering our public finance, environment, health and future?

On top of improving our health and reducing our impact on the climate, recent economic studies show that shifting towards a fossil fuel-free economy will increase economic activities and create jobs, which cannot be outsourced. Low-pay and health endangering mining jobs could be substituted for high value added, safe and non-outsourceable local energy jobs. Central and Eastern European cities would not be among the top 10 worst air polluted EU cities, thus preventing new diseases like asthma and cancer. Renewable energies, combined with strong energy efficiency plans and domestic, legally-binding greenhouse gas emissions targets, could create a sustainable future for our current and future generations, and would restore the power balance with our neighbours.

This week, the European Council has planned to agree upon a new path for a climate-friendly European society by 2030. Central and Eastern European governments’ fear over gas supply from Russia, and the eagerness to strongly develop their countries are absolutely understandable, and we fully encourage their cooperative actions through the Visegrad group. Nevertheless, they declared two weeks ago that the new Energy and Climate EU package for 2030 should be technology neutral and should not contain any national, legally binding targets concerning reduction of emissions, energy efficiency and renewable energies.

Central and Eastern European governments must push for fairness in sharing the burden of developing a climate-friendly Europe, and we strongly support their stance against Western European countries. But as politicians, they must find the equilibrium between short term imperatives and long term sustainable solutions. It’s not an easy task, and to respond adequately to these challenges, solutions can only be developed together. We must share the same objectives, the same targets with the same imperatives. It is not possible for Western European countries to consider Central and Eastern Europeans on the same level of development, like it is not possible for them to reconsider common minimum targets on reduction of emissions, energy efficiency and the energy mix share of renewables.

The transition towards this sustainable future takes time. It is more than necessary to start acting now, and tackle the greatest challenge of the history of mankind before it’s too late.

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