EU countries urged to see ‘opportunity in climate change’

Climate change should be seen as an opportunity rather than a threat but the tools at the EU’s disposal need to be changed to deal with the coming challenge, according to officials, MEPs and climate experts.

At a climate event on 18 June, ideas like scrapping fossil fuel subsidies, refreshing the mandates of financial institutions and implementing a future-proof industrial strategy were among the main talking points.

A few days before EU leaders failed to broker an agreement to go carbon neutral by 2050, panellists ranging from members of the EU institutions to green activists shared how they think Europe can deal with the effects of climate change and use it as an opportunity.

Green Party MEP Molly Scott-Cato said the main challenge is “changing mindsets and making citizens realise change can be positive”.

The British lawmaker added that “money is a social construct. It isn’t right to say we can’t afford to save ourselves. We should relax rules on government spending and not resign ourselves to this straight jacket.”

On 6 June, the European Commission unveiled a series of country-by-country recommendations that make suggestions on how to invest better in sustainable energy and transport systems.

The audit includes increased spending on renewable energy capacity, improved rail links and more cross-border power links. The Commission followed its suggestions up last week with specific recommendations on how to meet climate targets for 2030.

Bernd Biervert, a top adviser to Commission vice-president Maroš Šefcovic, said “the situation should be seen as an opportunity, not a threat”, and added that more has to be done on the bio- and circular economies.

WindEurope expert Viktoriya Kerelska warned though that national governments had failed to take competitiveness seriously in their draft energy and climate plans for 2030. She highlighted that only three countries, Denmark, France and Spain, had bothered to include commitments in that area.

Institutional tinkering

Scott-Cato also said that the European Investment Bank should be changed to better deal with fighting climate change. “The EIB is meant to be a truly public bank and should therefore be a climate bank”.

“There should be no fossil fuel investments and it should issue green bonds,” the MEP suggested, adding that the European Central Bank should issue “green guidance”. “We need to go the whole way,” she concluded.

Outgoing Green MEP Benedek Jávor added that “the money is there but it’s still spent on fossil fuels, this must stop”. The Hungarian lawmaker added that an EU list of priority energy projects (PCI) is still too fossil-fuel-heavy.

The EIB was criticised last week for authorising a €350 million loan to Ireland, which intends to use it to expand Dublin Airport. Clean aviation expert Andrew Murphy called it “a wasted opportunity” to spend more on public transport instead.

At the Brussels event, Friends of the Earth Europe campaigner Esther Bollendorff said it is “absurd that there is no aviation tax”.

EU countries are starting to think in earnest about how to clean up flying, with taxation looking like a strong possibility.

In addition to changing how the EIB goes about its business, the panel also suggested that all EU funding must be Paris Agreement-compatible and that a forthcoming industrial strategy needs to make sure Europe is a world leader in clean energy technology.

The Commission is due to reveal its vision for the bloc’s industrial sector by the end of the year, while ongoing talks on the EU’s long-term budget, the MFF, will decide if 25% of the pot is ring-fenced for climate action.

The times they are a-changing

Jávor praised the EU executive for “getting out of its silos” and doing more to bring policies like climate, energy and transport together but warned that “there are still difficulties, fighting against each other”.

Indeed, during the drafting period of the Commission’s 2050 strategy last year, the climate and energy services engaged in an ugly spat over how ambitious the climate plan should be.

A high-ranking official told EURACTIV that the Commission will have to keep evolving in order to keep up with the changes imposed by factors like climate.

The official conceded that there is a risk of returning to the silo-way of management and insisted that a next-generation of managers will have to build on the success of the 2050 strategy and ensure that the upcoming industry plan is up to the task of keeping Europe competitive and greening the economy.

It is not just the Commission that needs to change either, the official added that European Parliament committees have not evolved for decades and that the often months-long delays do not tally with a climate emergency mindset.

The EU will only be able to do its job if it uses 21st-century tools, the official warned.

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