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October 27, 2022

Brussels Dispatch: EU agrees climate position ahead of COP27

While EU members were in alignment on speeding up the energy transition and renewing support for developing countries, a gas price cap remained contentious.

EU member states agreed their joint negotiating position for COP27 on Monday, insisting the bloc wants to lead the world on climate action and suggesting it will not lower ambitions to phase down its reliance on fossil fuels despite the challenges posed by the war in Ukraine. 

“The EU has always been at the forefront of climate action and we will continue to lead by example,” said Anna Hubáčková, environment minister of the Czech Republic, which holds the six-month rotating presidency of the European Council until the end of the year. “The EU has proved today it is serious in its ambitions.”

The EU’s frantic attempts to increase supplies of liquefied natural gas and to find alternative gas suppliers in the face of squeezed supplies from Russia have led some to suggest recently that the bloc is more focused on energy security than climate action. EU climate chief Frans Timmermans insisted this week, however, that this was not the case. 

“The one conclusion we have drawn from the war is that we need to speed up our energy transition, so even if we use a bit more coal today, we will be going much faster in our energy transition. So on balance, emissions will be reduced even faster than before,” Timmermans said during Monday’s environment council.

Member states also agreed that global ambition must increase substantially to keep the 1.5C objective within reach, in line with the Paris Agreement. The current batch of nationally determined contributions (NDCs) – which set out how governments plan to reduce emissions – would allow warming to get close to 3C above pre-industrial levels. Scientists have warned that every degree of warming counts, and that allowing temperatures to shoot above 2C will have dire consequences for all the world’s inhabitants.

The EU’s ‘Fit for 55’ package, which should be signed off by the end of the year, aims to enable the bloc to: implement its NDC; reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 per cent by 2030, compared to 1990 levels; and achieve climate neutrality by 2050.

Member states say they stand ready to update the EU NDC following final agreement on the package. This commitment demonstrates EU ambition “to show leadership, credibility and solidarity at the global level”, said Shirley Matheson from the WWF European Policy Office in Brussels in a statement to the press.

The need for all countries to increase financing to “support climate action and to mainstream climate in all financial flows” was likewise highlighted during the meeting. Member states renewed the EU’s commitment to help reach the global goal of developed countries’ mobilising at least $100bn a year through to 2025. The target, missed in 2020, is now expected to be met in 2023.

Biodiversity position

EU environment ministers also set down their position on the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, which should be agreed at COP15, the international biodiversity summit to be held in Montreal in December. Ministers pledged to support measurable and long-term 2050 goals, as well as intermediate targets to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030.

To achieve this aim, the EU must “agree to halve the global footprint of production and consumption by 2030”, said Guido Broekhoven, WWF International head of policy and development. This pledge should include “ambitious” deforestation legislation that ensures “business and financial institutions immediately implement deforestation and conversion-free supply chains”, added Sabien Leemans, senior biodiversity officer in the WWF European Policy Office. The EU is negotiating new deforestation legislation, which should be agreed before the end of the year. 

However, nature non-governmental organisations were less enthusiastic about members of the European Parliament backing European Commission proposals to make it easier to get renewable energy projects up and running by exempting them, in certain areas, from environmental impact assessments. WWF said the key to rapidly expanding wind and solar power was “better spatial planning and more administrative capacity in permitting authorities, not scrapping rules that facilitate public involvement and nature protection”.

Joint gas purchasing

Meanwhile, Tuesday saw the latest energy council – the first ordinary meeting after four extraordinary meetings in response to the war in Ukraine and sky-high gas prices. Ministers meeting in Luxemburg once again discussed the idea of introducing a bloc-wide gas price cap as a way of keeping down energy cost rises.

Member states continue to diverge on the proposal, however, with Germany and the Netherlands, in particular, concerned that a price cap would cause gas use to rise, or leave some countries struggling to buy enough gas.

The idea of EU countries jointly purchasing gas was also debated. The European Commission is proposing the EU first aggregates demand by pooling the gas needs of companies before they contract suppliers. Companies would also be able to form gas-purchasing consortiums to buy gas together, coordinating volumes, prices, delivery points and times.

“If the proposed two-step model will be agreed at the November council, we’ll be ready to jointly buy gas to refill the storage after this heating season,” said EU energy commissioner Kadri Simson. 

The Czech Republic said it would convene another energy council on November 24 to give member states the opportunity to find agreement on both issues.

 

A service from the Financial Times