Wednesday, 21 July 2021 07:22

The Green Brief: EU climate package déjà vu?


For those who have been following EU energy and climate policy over the past five years, the European Commission’s ‘Fit for 55’ package has a distinct whiff of déjà vu.

As part of the proposals unveiled last week, the EU executive tabled more than a dozen legislative acts – EU directives and regulations – aimed at putting Europe on track to cut its carbon emissions by 55% compared to 1990 levels by 2030.

Pascal Canfin, a senior lawmaker who chairs the European Parliament’s environment committee, said it was “probably the most important climate package ever tabled in the world,” with 13 legislative texts.

Faced with thousands of pages of legislation, some have warned that a “regulatory tsunami” is about to hit the European Parliament and the Council of the EU, the bloc’s two co-legislative bodies.

Indeed, legislators will have a lot on their plate over the next two years – the usual time it takes for the EU to approve new laws.

But isn’t there a silver lining to all this? After all, many of the legislative texts contained in the package are simply amended versions of laws that the EU adopted in December 2018, as part of its so-called Clean Energy Package (CEP).

This is the case, for example, for the Renewable Energy Directive (RED), the Regulation on CO2 emissions from cars and the Emissions Trading Scheme Directive (ETS) to name just a few of the heaviest files.

And legislators have been here before. In the previous Parliament, lawmakers expressed fears of a “tsunami of legislation” when the CEP was presented in 2016. At the end of the day, they survived, and completed the job within two and a half years – almost lightning speed by EU standards.

So will that make ‘Fit for 55’ easier to get over the line? Not really, unfortunately.

“We have a lot of experience from the Clean Energy Package,” acknowledged Peter Liese, a senior German lawmaker from the centre-right EPP group in Parliament. “A lot of the fundamental decisions have been taken” when the CEP was adopted, he admitted.

However, the political situation has changed since then, with a new crop of MEPs elected to the European Parliament, he remarked.

“We have new colleagues, and their voices need to be heard,” Liese said, referring to the 2019 EU elections, which brought an increased number of Green and far-right MEPs.

Liese also vigorously rejected suggestions that the new package was a mere technical update to existing laws, with just a few tweaks in percentages here and there.

Instead, lawmakers will have a charged political debate about changes to the EU carbon market, which puts a price on emissions from the power sector and industry, he said. And with carbon pricing now extended to transport and heating fuels, this means EU climate policies will start directly affecting the citizens.

“At least colleagues are allowed to question it,” Liese commented.

A tighter carbon market also means EU countries will need to bring forward their coal phase-out date, Liese said, probably in reference to Germany which set a 2038 target date to close its last coal power plant – a deadline widely regarded as too late.

“This is a huge thing, it is not just a technical adjustment,” Liese said. “It is really an important political decision that will change the life of hundreds of thousands of employees,” he stressed.

In fact, with ‘Fit for 55’, the European Commission has, perhaps unknowingly, taken an unprecedented step forward in EU environmental policy making – bringing politics with all its messiness and conflict into climate policy. And the more politics get involved, the more outcomes become unpredictable.

– Frédéric Simon

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VIENNA | BUCHAREST. Austria, Romania slam EU forest strategy. Austria and Romania are among 10 EU countries demanding a wide-reaching debate on the EU’s new forest strategy, one of the European Green Deal’s flagship initiatives proposed last week. The two countries said forestry falls under EU member states’ competence and cannot be regulated at the European level. More.

LJUBLJANA. First green light for new Slovenian nuclear power station unit. Slovenia’s infrastructure ministry has issued an energy permit for the construction of the second unit at Krško, Slovenia’s only nuclear power station, a step that allows permitting procedures to begin. Read more.

VIENNA. Record rainfalls and flooding reaches Austria. After Western Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands were hit by unprecedented flash floods on Thursday, record rainfalls also triggered severe floods in Austria during the weekend. Read more.

PRAGUE. Czech minister backs Commission’s EU carbon border tax proposal. The carbon border adjustment mechanism proposed by the European Commission is a “good idea”, Czech Environment Minister Richard Brabec (ANO, Renew) told the Czech News Agency. Read more.

BRATISLAVA. Activists protest against LNG terminal on Danube in Bratislava. More than 60 Greenpeace activists protested on kayaks on the Danube river on Wednesday against the construction of a new liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in Bratislava. Read more.

China launches world’s largest carbon market. China’s long-awaited national carbon emission trading scheme (ETS) made its debut on Friday (16 July) with 4.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide quotas worth 210 million yuan (€27.6 million) changing hands, Shanghai Securities News reported. It is the largest carbon market in the world by volume with more than 2,000 power plants, responsible for more than 4 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, included in the first phase of trading. The price closed at 51.23 yuan (just under €7) per tonne on the first day of trade, up 6.7%.

“China has reached an important milestone in its progress on climate action, putting the last puzzle piece in place for the largest carbon market in the world,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, an international nonprofit organisation. China’s central government is working with industrial associations to collect data from the steel, non-ferrous metals, chemicals and other sectors with the aim of expanding carbon trading. (EURACTIV.com with Reuters)

‘Fit for 55,’ Belarus migrant stand off and Whatsapp complaints. In the last episode of the season, the Yellow Room brings you all the reaction to Europe’s “Fit for 55” climate package unveiled this week. To break down the components of this story, we spoke with EURACTIV energy and environment reporter Kira Taylor.

’Fit for 55,’ Belarus migrant stand off and Whatsapp complaints

  • Europe’s hydrogen split: blue vs green and north vs south – by Mike Parr
  • Fit for 55 will penalise poor Europeans – by Martha Myers
  • The rise of electric vehicles could deliver green jobs – but we need a plan – by Judith Kirton-Darling
  • Europe fiddles while forests burn – by Peg Putt
  • ‘Fit-for-55’ package: Squaring the circle – by Georg Zachmann

22 JULY. #eaGreenEU Twitter chat | Forestry and climate change. Join EURACTIV’s energy and environment journalists for a live discussion on the role of forestry and climate change in the EU. Find more information, including how you can join in, here. (Supported by Life Terra)

2 SEPTEMBER. New EU emissions trading system: what should change? Join this EURACTIV Virtual Conference to discuss how the EU’s Emissions Trading System should evolve? Speakers to be confirmed. Programme and registration here. (Supported PGE)

7 SEPTEMBER. Forest restoration and tree-planting – what impact for climate change mitigation? Join Humberto Delgado Rosa, Director Natural Capital at the European Commission, Jytte Guteland from the European Parliament, Sven Kallen, Founder and Secretary, Life Terra Foundation and more to discuss the impact forest restoration and tree-planting can have on climate change mitigation. Programme and registration here. (Supported by Life Terra)

8 SEPTEMBER. Carbon removal strategy – is it needed and will it make a difference? Carbon removals have been put into the spotlight by Europe’s net emissions reduction targets. But how will policies work together to make sure carbon removals are sufficient to tackle the climate crisis? Speakers to be confirmed. Programme and registration here. (Supported by Equinor).

21 JULY: Informal meeting of environment ministers. On the second day of the EU Environment Council in Slovenia, ministers will discuss biodiversity. The meeting will be followed by a press conference with Slovenian environment minister Andrej Visjak and environment commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius.

21-23 SEPTEMBER: Informal meeting of transport and energy ministers, 21-23 September 2021. The ‘Fit for 55’ package will no doubt feature prominently during the meeting.

14 DECEMBER: Fit for 55 – part 2. Following the publication of its huge package of climate proposals in July, the European Commission is expected to table more energy-related files, including regulations on natural gas, and proposals on the circular economy.