EU fails expectations as global climate policy leader in UN international talks

Procrastination in crucial climate policy decision-making was the outcome of the 20th UN Conference of the Parties on Climate Change, at the close of most likely the hottest year ever recorded. The plan finally agreed at the Lima international talks on climate change (1-14 December) paves a hard way to the 21st Conference of the Parties, which will be held in Paris from 30 November to 11 December 2015: extended by two days, due to intense disagreements over who should take the burden of cutting greenhouse emissions and financing climate change policies in developing economies, the Lima Call for Climate Action is a rather vague call for national commitments, which in essence postpones difficult decisions for later. 

On the positive side, the Lima agreement marks the first time all states agreed to cut emissions. The landmark U.S.-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change of November 11th was indeed a catalyst in doing away with doubts about the urgent need for a global deal at the Paris COP21. However, it was not enough to curb the rigidity of states in agreeing to the necessary policies and responsibilities for the needed emissions reductions.

The EU’s contribution to the aim for a good global climate deal was disappointingly weak: the anemic 2030 energy and climate package, which was agreed in October 2014, failed to send a strong and clear signal worldwide before the critical, upcoming climate negotiations leading to COP21.

Read more: Lima Call for Climate Action, WWF, ENDS



EU leaders fail climate stress tests

The EU’s Heads of State and Government finally decided on a climate and energy package for 2030 which lacks ambition and fails to respond to the unfolding climate crisis. The package adopted by the EU Council on October 24th sets a target of at least 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and at least 27% for renewables and energy savings. 

The negotiations for the European Union’s headline policies on climate change have undergone several phases and upside-downs, now closing at record low, in terms of target-setting. In February, the European Parliament showed leadership and ambition up to par with the urgency of the underlying issues, by rejecting the Commission’s low ambition proposals and calling for three binding targets: at least 40% greenhouse gas cuts (compared with 1990 levels), at least 30% energy share from renewables in the final energy consumption and 40% energy savings (in line with research on cost-effective energy saving potential), binding at the member state level.


Living economy in Greece

Intervention by Tony Long, Director of WWF EPO, at the conference organised by WWF Greece / Athens, 15 October 2014 


I start my intervention with a quotation from the then International President of WWF, Chief Anayaoku, at a major conference in Brussels in 2007:

Our way of living is not only threatening the health and diversity of our planet’s species, but has become a huge threat to human survival as well.

·     Societies cannot continue to operate as if the planet was a business in liquidation.

·     We cannot continue to turn our backs on pollution and call it someone else’s problem.

·    We cannot continue to call income what in reality is resource depletion.

·  We cannot claim economic success for development patterns that leave hundreds of millions of people marginalised and which stoke the fears of resentment and conflict.

We need to move beyond conventional economic accounting. We are calling for new ways to measure and record progress so that we can take the necessary corrective measures to set a more wise development path.” 


Media-web-publications, September 2014

- Environmental misgivings: why Parliament should reject the Juncker Commission, by Tony Long | Euractiv (29 September 2014)

The mandates in the mission letters are frequently far from bold, and in some cases are actually regressive. In the case of the Environment and Marine and Fisheries Commissioner, there is a pronounced deregulatory emphasis with the habitats and birds directives, the air quality legislation and the circular economy agenda all opened for scrutiny is some cases before the ink on the paper is even dry.

All eyes will be on the Parliament in the next weeks in Europe and beyond. The Green 10 has urged the Parliament earlier this month to reject this proposed Commission. We continue to do so, largely because of the concerns about the proposed restructuring and the mandates which I have just mentioned. But also because of concerns that some of those nominated as Commissioners appear poorly aligned to their respective portfolios. Our general concern is that the credibility of the EU institutions, and specifically the Parliament, will be severely damaged if nominees are slotted into positions for which they are clearly not suited. The people of Europe deserve better than that.

We have made four positive proposals which we urge the Parliament to push for in the confirmation hearings:

  • A Vice President for sustainability – an objective which the Green 10 shares with the 1,800 European and international relief and development NGOs through its umbrella organization, Concord;
  • Ensure the Environment portfolio is reinstated with a dedicated Environment Commissioner, charged with a more progressive, less negative, environmental mandate;
  • Full inclusion of climate on at least an equal basis in the mandate and title of the proposed Vice-President for Energy Union;
  • Effective scrutiny of potential conflicts of interest."


-Schulz flashes red light for Juncker: Put in sustainability | Euractiv (29 September 2014)

“European Parliament President Martin Schulz has sent a letter to Jean-Claude Juncker, urging the European Commission President-elect to include sustainable development in the portfolio of Jyrki Katainen, responsible for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness.”

“The proposed new structure of the European Commission sidelines sustainability issues and risks undoing years of environmental legislation, writes Tony Long in an exclusive op-ed in EurActiv, explaining the reasons for a rejection of the Commission if President-elect does not act in consequences.

With parliamentary hearing starting today (29 September), the pressure on Juncker to ease criticism is on. Schulz has demanded an answer from Juncker today. In a previous letter sent by a group of MEPs on their concern over the sidelining of sustainable development, Juncker answered that “growth can only make a meaningful difference if it is able to last or continue for a long time.”

- Naomi Klein: Pitting Environment Against Economy Risks Failure of Both | The American Prospect (17 September 2014)

Again and again we pit the economy against the environment. When the economic crisis hit Europe, all this austerity came down and not only were millions of people laid off and public services cut back, but Europeans were also told they could no longer afford their green policies anymore. So the system isn’t working for workers and it isn’t working for the environment. This economic system is failing us on so many levels, and it also happens to be destabilizing the systems on which all life depends.”

- Limits to Growth was right. New research shows we're nearing collapse| The Guardian (2 September 2014)

As the graphs show, the University of Melbourne research has not found proof of collapse as of 2010 (although growth has already stalled in some areas). But in Limits to Growth those effects only start to bite around 2015-2030. …¶… The first stages of decline may already have started. The Global Financial Crisis of 2007-08 and ongoing economic malaise may be a harbinger of the fallout from resource constraints. The pursuit of material wealth contributed to unsustainable levels of debt, with suddenly higher prices for food and oil contributing to defaults - and the GFC.”

Almost all Europeans say protecting the environment is important to them | Prague Post (9 September 2014)

Three years on from the most recent similar Eurobarometer survey, it is clear that, despite the economic crisis, Europeans’ concern about the environment has not diminished. In an overwhelming consensus, 95 percent of the 28,000 interviewed citizens said that protecting the environment is important to them personally and many think more can be done. …¶… A strong majority of people share the view that the efficient use of natural resources (79 percent) and the protection of the environment (74 percent) can boost economic growth. While 80 percent consider that the economy influences their quality of life, 75 percent think the state of the environment has a similar impact and 77 percent of EU citizens believe that environmental problems have a direct effect on their daily lives. They worry most about pollution — air (56 percent) and water pollution (50 percent) ranking highest — as well as waste generation and the depletion of natural resources.”




Will the new EU Commission aim for a brave green world?

The environmental failure of the outgoing Barroso Commission, most noticeably reflected in the “REFIT – fit for growth” initiative and the low ambition 2030 climate and energy package, has marred the EU’s profile as a global green leader. Will the Commission of 2014 show the necessary commitment to the sustainability pillar of the EU Treaty? That remains to be seen, as the newly appointed President, Jean Claude Juncker, lacks an environmental track record, yet he will have to lead the EU’s effective response to major environmental challenges. 

In his “five priorities” as candidate for the Commission’s presidency, Juncker makes no mention to policies on environment and resource efficiency. He does however set renewable energies as second priority, in a context of energy security and reduction of energy dependency from the East.

The new President’s stated priorities are in line with the conclusions of the June 26-27 EU Council, which constitute the strategic guidelines for the new Commission: emphasis is on security and justice, growth, REFIT, energy security of low climate ambition, and nothing on the environment and sustainable development.

“Juncker can hardly be worse than the last Commission president. He has recently made some positive statements – for example by positioning himself against nuclear energy and fracking – but we will judge him on his actions. We hope that he can help deliver the change that Europe needs to regain its global leadership role on the environment”, stated Frederic Thoma, Greenpeace’s EU energy policy adviser. 

The heated debates between the EU Heads of State and Government over the appointment of the next EC President monopolised the headlines and overshadowed the truly burning issue of Europe’s response to global warming: the 2030 climate and energy framework. The EU Council’s decision on this is a declaration of intent and postpones the real decisions to October 2014, after the UN Climate Summit. “While the political maneuverings around the choice of the next Commission President grab the headlines, the fact remains that this a complete diversion from the far more pressing climate and energy decisions that are now on the table and which matter far more to European citizens”, stated WWF’s European Policy Office Director Tony Long.  

Sources: J.C. Juncker, EU Council draft conclusions, WWF EU.



EU ministers seek compromise over energy-as-usual framework for 2030

The policy debates held at the Environment and Energy Councils on 3 and 4 March were dominated by concerns about energy prices and the competitiveness of Europe’s industry. The states comprising the Visegrad Group, joined by Bulgaria and Romania, remained rock-steady against renewable and energy efficiency targets and called for further lowering of the 40% reduction target or postponing any decision on this. The Member States favouring three more ambitious and nationally binding targets (primarily Germany, Austria, Denmark, Portugal) chose to lower their expectations. They sided with the UK’s compromise proposal, which sets a 27% target for renewables, on the condition that this would never be translated into national RES targets. The Greek Presidency appeared to aim at feeding the European Council of 20-12 March with only broad guidelines, thus essentially postponing tough decisions indefinitely.


Dirty energy giants call for end of support to renewables

The bosses of ten of Europe’s largest energy utilities joined forces against the support schemes for renewable energies. Nicknamed “The Magritte Group”, the CEOs of giants such as German RWE, Italian Enel and Eni, French GDF Suez, Swedish Vattenfall and Spanish Iberdrola, stated that support needs to be directed towards gas-powered capacity and not renewables. The group “warned” that the risk of black-outs has never been higher in Europe, due to the “oversupply” of renewable energy, which in turn leaves the system susceptible to fluctuations resulting from problems in storing energy from renewable sources.

Subscribe to this RSS feed