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The Brief: Should climate really end up on EU's back burner?


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EURACTIV | The Brief

Today's EU policy news, 19.09.2017, 5PM


Should climate really end up on EU’s back burner?


By Sam Morgan

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone in Brussels, or in any part of Europe for that matter, who isn’t worried about climate change. So why isn’t the EU putting all its efforts into fighting this immense threat?

A new study shows that 92% of Europeans believe climate change is a serious problem. Sceptics are few and far between on this side of the Atlantic, so it is baffling that an international player like the European Union continues to dawdle.

Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the Union speech last week, for all its federalist-pleasing content and maritime metaphors, disappointed those who care about the environment by relegating climate change to a mere cursory mention. It is symptomatic of a worrying problem.

Announcing trade deals and far-fetched institutional reform is all very well, it certainly gave the EU bubble plenty to mull, but what’s the point when such a looming, indisputable danger to our way of life gets closer and closer. Devastating hurricanes and rampant forest fires are just the start, remember.

Tariffs, Slovak fish fingers, Brexit deals and transnational lists are small-fry in comparison. They hardly matter when compared to extreme droughts and flooding, or a migration crisis the likes of which we have never seen and trillions in avoidable healthcare costs.

Juncker’s speech, his empty promise to ‘make the planet great again’ and focus on business and trade suggest that he almost considers the climate change job done.

He took great pride in reminding those gathered in Strasbourg that it was the EU that pushed the Paris Agreement over the ratification threshold and that the accord was brokered in Europe.

But we all know the job isn’t done, that the 1.5 degrees target is probably dead in the water and that far too much time has been wasted on fretting over what Trump is or is not going to do. This weekend is a prime example.

The EU should have already leapt into the driving seat vacated by the US and firmly gripped the steering wheel. The SOTEU would have been a perfect time, just before last Saturday’s Montreal summit, to announce tangible steps to fight climate change, instead of the self-congratulatory praise that we’ve heard too much of.

EU climate boss Miguel Arias Cañete said in Canada that the EU wants to “raise global climate ambition”. If Brussels is serious about that then it should take a leaf out of China’s book.

Beijing is working on a plan to ban the use of the internal combustion engine. Renewable energy records are falling by the wayside. There is enough appetite in Europe to follow suit.

Yes, there are positive signs coming out of the Parliament. Recent committee votes have shown that MEPs want more ambitious renewable and energy efficiency targets. But the member states are still on a different page and a new auditors’ report warns that time is rapidly running out.

Germany’s long-promised-but-still-vague phase-out of coal is still an idea without a plan, nuclear power is threatening a comeback in the east and the UK’s interest in large-scale projects is dying thanks to Brexit.

There are many issues in which the EU should tread lightly and where the market should be trusted to sort itself out. But we don’t have time for that when it comes to the climate. We need more than nice words.

Let’s hope that the Commission’s forthcoming plan to cut transport emissions shows enough ambition. It is sorely needed.


The Roundup

Watch our interview with Commission Vice-president for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip on how free flow of data within the single market would raise EU salaries.

“America first”…but Europe second! Consumers’ justice Commissioner Jourová sighs with relief as the US confirms controversial plans to protect privacy when sharing data across the Atlantic.

Every Cloud has a silver lining– don’t kill innovative industries for the sake of ePrivacy, writes European Cloud Alliance chief, Kim Gagné

Europe to speed up its efforts on decarbonisation – otherwise we’re faced with failure, warns the European court of auditors.

A climate trip through Trump’s America, from the EU’s policy advisor on climate and energy policy.

European farmers seek to avoid Argentinian asado and Brazilian churrasco flooding the single market, which they say could happen if the EU caves in to Mercosur demands .

Peanuts, eggs, soy, shellfish….the food industry calls for EU-wide standardised labelling to avoid allergic reactions.

Catalonia did it again – the sixth yearly demonstration in favour of independence. How long will it take for Spain to accept the upcoming referendum as legitimate, asks Green MEP Jordi Solé?

When speaking of economic migrants, we don’t imagine business class flights and property investments. Granting “golden visas” to dodgy foreigners in exchange for cash is a practice in 12 EU states. We should vet them, writes MEP Ana Gomes.

Europe’s ageing population is often painted as a “burden” on social security, a “threat” to the economy. We have to stop and rethink what living longer means, writes Olga Algayerova of the UN’s economic commission for Europe.


Look out for….

Energy and transport ministers meet in Tallinn to discuss the Energy Union.

And don’t forget, today is the Brief’s first anniversary!

Views are the author’s.

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