EURACTIV — 2022-11-14
News from Brussels
The European Union’s climate chief, Frans Timmermans, arrives in Sharm El-Sheikh for the COP27 summit with some good news: The EU’s 2030 climate goal “can now be increased to 57%,” from 55% previously, he confirmed.
Global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are not supposed to be the primary focus of the COP27 taking place in the Egyptian seaside resort of Sharm El-Sheikh.
Instead, this year’s annual Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is meant to focus chiefly on adaptation to the inevitable effects of global warming – such as rising sea levels, storms or floods, which have ravaged Pakistan in June, killing more than 1,700 people.
Speaking to journalists on Friday 11 November before his departure to Egypt, Timmermans said he was fully aware of this, saying adaptation to global warming and the issue of compensation – or loss and damage – were “first and foremost on the agenda of what is essentially an African COP”.
Yet, the EU’s climate chief also insisted that mitigation – the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions – was still vitally important to maintain a chance of keeping global warming below 2°C, and if possible under 1.5°C, one of the goals of the Paris Agreement.
“If we don’t drastically reduce our emissions, there’s no amount of money or effort put into adaptation or loss and damage that will allow humanity to face the catastrophes that will occur,” he argued.
“Keeping the 1.5 alive is still very very much on the agenda and especially as far as the G20 countries are concerned, who are collectively responsible for 80% of global emissions,” he told journalists on Friday 11 November.
And on this count, he said Europe was delivering.
Last week, the EU concluded negotiations on two pieces of legislation that are part of a broader package of laws aimed at reducing the bloc’s emissions by 55% by 2030. These come after the bloc reached a landmark agreement two weeks ago requiring all new cars and vans to be zero-emission as of 2035, a move that effectively spells the end of petrol and diesel engines.
For the Dutchman, the higher level of ambition shown by EU legislators means Europe is now in a position to increase its emissions reduction target submitted to the United Nations, its Nationally Determined Contribution.
“We have that done and dusted, which means that now that I’m going to be heading to COP, our pledge to reduce our emissions by at least 55% until 2030 can be increased to 57%,” he said.
2022: a difficult year for climate action
The EU’s climate chief did not deny that 2022 will be a difficult year for climate action because of Russia’s war in Ukraine and the near-complete stoppage of Moscow’s gas deliveries to Europe. As a result of falling Russian gas supplies, many European countries have turned to coal power as a backup solution.
Asked by EURACTIV, Timmermans refused to speculate on the impact this will have on the EU’s overall emissions for the year but acknowledged that they should go higher as a result.
“Logically thinking, if you replace gas with coal, your emissions are higher because coal has higher emissions than gas,” he said.
And he admitted that Europe would need time to replace Russian gas with alternatives, including other fossil fuels such as liquified natural gas (LNG) imported from the US.
“You cannot overnight replace that with renewables – it takes time. So it is clear that because of these two reasons, we will have to look for alternative sources of fossil fuels in this interim period,” Timmermans said.
But he strongly rejected accusations that Europe was falling behind on its climate ambition because of the war in Ukraine.
“We’re in the middle of a war where the aggressor is trying to divide and rule to weaken us by using energy as a weapon. We need to defend ourselves against that,” he pleaded. “You know, if we can’t get our citizens and industries through winter, there will not be a climate policy left.”
Rather than weakening the EU’s climate ambition, Timmermans said the war in Ukraine has acted as a wake-up call for Europeans to speed up the transition away from fossil fuels, with the EU taking initiatives to further increase its 2030 targets for renewables and energy efficiency.
“We still keep focused on our climate goals, and we are performing on that,” he said. “We are even having a target that is more ambitious than previously announced – we go from 55 to 57% emission reductions between now and 2030.”
“So I feel pretty confident that I can explain that to partners who might not see this immediately”.
According to Timmermans, the EU’s higher level of ambition on climate will give Europe “the authority to lead” in Sharm El-Sheikh.
“Because, you know, in this area, you can make pledges but only results will lead to any form of credibility when you speak on an international podium. You need to walk the walk. Talking the talk is nice, but it will not get you there.”