Yes to delaying COP during a pandemic, no to delaying reduction goals

Interview

MEP Michael Bloss takes stock of the negotiations on the EU Climate Law, and on the performance of the German EU Council Presidency, in the wake of the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement.

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German Green MEP Michael Bloss

This interview is part of our dossier The Paris Agreement Five Years On.

 

Lisa Tostado: 12 December 2020 marks the fifth anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement, during COP21. COP26 in Scotland, originally scheduled for November 2020 and now postponed by a year, is regarded as the most important since Paris, because Glasgow will show whether the Paris Agreement works as planned: It provides for the countries to present new, and above all more ambitious, climate plans every five years. Where does the EU and the world stand five years after the Paris Agreement? Do you think that we are in a better situation now than when the Paris Agreement was agreed on in 2015?

Unfortunately, over the last five years we have observed how the impacts of the climate crisis have worsened and caused more destruction and suffering be it wildfires, floods or heat waves. Moreover, in terms of emissions, we are still far from being on the right track to keep global heating to 1.5 degrees as agreed in Paris. A simple example: every year we still push billions of euros into the subsidy of fossil fuels – EU-wide 137 Billion Euros.

However, at the same time, there has been a major shift in public awareness, and this is starting to translate into a shift at the polls, with a Green wave spreading through Europe, and thus also into change in policies. More and more countries and the EU have agreed on climate neutrality goals for 2050. This is not enough, but a step in the right direction. 

Which impact has the Paris Accord had on EU and global climate policy? Has it been able to deliver on the high expectations? Where are we at concerning the first updates of the NDCs?

The Paris Agreement was a major step for global climate policy and continues to be an important reference point also for the EU. Now countries have to adapt their ambitions to the latest science in order to achieve the agreed temperature goal, which will not be easy, but necessary. The European Climate Law will help to implement these goals into national laws.

Regarding the EU’s NDC update, all eyes are on the summit of Heads of State and Government on the 10th and 11th of December. There is still a risk that the EU Member States will not reach an agreement on their position for the 2030 emissions reductions goal, which would be a catastrophic delay. There is also the danger of the European Parliament being sidelined, undermining democratic decision-making. Because the European Parliament’s position is clear: We want a 60% goal. Which is already a compromise for us Greens who aim for a 65% emissions reduction target. However, the most likely outcome for the summit looks like a wishy-washy 55 percent-target, and with the summit being held so close to the deadline for the NDC update, there is no time to negotiate.

Looking ahead, what are your thoughts on the next COP in Glasgow in 2021? Which role will and should the EU play? What will be the big fish to fry? Which international alliances do we need to gain momentum and achieve results with a sufficiently large number of countries, including big emitters?

The EU needs to become again a global leader in climate policy, an ambitious 2030 target within a strong European Climate Law is key to fulfilling this role.

Important issues on the COP26 agenda will be climate finance, the rules for global carbon trading and the rules around public participation in climate action. For the EU as a wealthy economic bloc, and as a self-declared leader not only on climate but also on human rights, it is absolutely essential that it uses its weight in the negotiations to ensure strong and fair outcomes on these issues. This means a fair distribution of the cost of the transition, safeguards to ensure carbon offset projects do no harm to local communities and actually deliver emissions reductions, and strong mechanisms to give those most affected by the climate crisis a say in climate policy.

It is great to have the US back as a potential ally. We will also have to work with big players like China and India, who have declared net zero targets but need to become more ambitious and may need support and pressure to get there.

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The trilogue between the European Parliament, the European Commission and EU Council seems to be a special case this time as the EU Council only has a partial mandate for the EU Climate Law that you have followed very closely. How do you see the negotiations on the EU Climate Law?

The trilogues are starting out slow so far, with only an introductory meeting having taken place for now. We are happy to finally start the process even with a partial approach, as we have no time to waste on climate action. But of course, the European Parliament’s climate law is a package and there are limits as to how much we can negotiate without taking all aspects of it into account. Especially, defining how much CO2 emission is going to be reduced in the next year is a crucial element and it is essential that the EU Council defines its position as soon as possible. We are looking forward to properly starting negotiations once this has happened and we will defend the important additions that the European Parliament has made to the European Commission’s proposal.

What do you expect from the EU Summit on 10 and 11 December 2020? Will all 27 Member States agree on a new 2030 target that is compatible with the Paris Agreement? What are still barriers that need to be overcome? Will the EU be a role model with this Climate Law?

It is absolutely crucial that the EU Summit decides on a 2030 target. This will be the basis for the EU Council’s negotiating position in the climate law negotiations. I deeply regret that the environment ministers did not already define their position at the last Environment EU Council meeting. Instead, they decided to leave this to their bosses. Now we have a situation where Hungary and Poland are potentially holding this important decision hostage in order to prevent the new rule of law mechanism.

If the Summit does reach a decision on the climate target, 55% is what seems most likely. This is not enough to fulfil the EU’s global responsibility. As a very wealthy region we can afford to make larger efforts. The European Parliament wants at least 60% and studies show that this is completely feasible. Our house is already on fire, warming is already at 1,2 degrees, we need to reduce emissions as fast as possible to stick to the Paris goals. Only an ambitious climate law that includes strong targets, but also strong monitoring and accountability measures can make the EU a global role model.

How do you evaluate the German EU Council Presidency so far? Was it a climate-friendly EU Council Presidency? What have been major shortcomings? What has been successful?

Unfortunately, I see, as so often, a gap between the German government’s communication on their plans for the German EU Council Presidency, where they stated that Climate policy would be one of their priorities, and the actual action. The EU Council decision on the climate targets in October and might do so again now in December. Now, it all depends on the Summit this week. If the EU Council cannot come to an agreement on the 2030 reduction goal then, it will be a huge failure of the German EU Council Presidency and for the EU as a whole, as they will be unable to hand in NDCs to the UN on time.

Ambitious climate targets, enshrined in law are important, but it is also important to have plans how to confidently achieve them. What needs to happen most urgently on the EU level in order to put us on a pathway to reach the 1.5-degree target? Which initiatives will you follow most closely in the next months?

We need to establish a correct price for CO2 including the costs that it causes for society, which scientists estimate to be around 180 € per ton emitted. Thus, I will follow very closely the reform of the EU Emissions Trading System. If this is done right, it can go a long way to reduce emissions by putting an adequate price on carbon. To be precise: it will boost the phase-out of coal which we need for reaching our new climate targets. But there are major flaws in the current system, like the large number of emissions certificates being given out for free, that we need to fix in order to transform the system from a fig leave to an effective climate policy tool.

This would not only help transform our industry, but also lead to getting out of fossil fuels a lot faster than is currently foreseen. Because a coal phase-out in 2038 as currently foreseen in Germany is too late. Moreover, we need to phase-out fossil gas, which the industry is trying to sell as a clean “bridge fuel” while the science is clear: gas is anything but clean. Nonetheless, there are still massive investments, including EU funds, going towards new gas infrastructure. This puts us at risk of locking in the use of fossil gas for decades to come. We have to make sure that financial flows are aligned with the necessary transition. This means ending all subsidies for fossil fuels and creating incentives for private investments to go to the right places.

Thank you so much for your insights.