EU should invest more in climate and not sit back on its laurels and watch

Miguel Arias Cañete European Commission

Press conference by Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the EC in charge of Energy Union, and Miguel Arias Cañete, Member of the EC in charge of Climate Action and Energy, on the EC sustainable energy security package. © European Union , 2016 / Source: EC – Audiovisual Service / Photo: Georges Boulougouris

The European Commission convened last Friday to discuss an assessment report about the implementation process of the COP21 Paris agreement which was adopted last December. Environment ministers teamed up and held a public debate only to conclude to what was already known; that the climate agreement must be followed and signed at the New York UN Headquarters in April 22.

No constructive talks on how to reduce even further the greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 were made. Neither the EU Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Cañete nor the Vice-President for the Energy Union Maroš Šefčovič made any remarkable statements which could lead to any change or innovation in EU’s climate policy.

The climate is at critical stage already. No more than a week ago, the average temperatures across the northern hemisphere breached the famous 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels for the first time in the recorded history.

Consequently, Europe needs to step up and do more instead of publishing press releases referring to the obvious. The EU must prove every single moment that is truly the global leader in the fight against global warming and climate change.

EU sadly rests on its laurels

The European Union has surely put a lot of effort to strike the Paris agreement a few months ago but has done nothing since then than just reiterating its 2030 target emissions. Miguel Cañete mentioned during the follow-up of COP21 session argued: “We have the deal. Now we need to make it real. For the EU, this means completing the 2030 climate and energy legislation without delay, signing and ratifying the Agreement as soon as possible, and continuing our leadership in the global transition to a low-carbon future. Through our climate diplomacy, the EU will push to keep climate change at the top of the international political agenda. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but as we did in Paris, we will persevere and succeed.”

What is more, Maroš Šefčovič said that the COP21 agreement has set the scene for a cleaner environment with renewable and efficient energy. More specifically, the Vice-President for the Energy Union stressed: “The Paris Agreement sends a strong signal that the world is moving towards a global clean energy transition. We want to maintain the first mover advantage, notably in renewable energy and energy efficiency. Under the Energy Union strategy we want to create an environment that allows investors and businesses to fully seize these new opportunities, and consequently be able to generate new jobs and growth. We will speed up our work in this field.”

The climate in severe danger

While EU officials are not doing great things about climate any more, the climate continues to deteriorate. Last February has been the hottest month with average temperatures of 1.15 and 1.4 degrees Celsius above the long-term average. The latter is enough to make us understand that there is no time to waste and immediate proactive actions are much required.

However, the good news according to a report published by the climate economist Lord Stern is that carbon emissions are likely to have peaked already in China, a lot earlier that it was predicted they would. These results are connected to the global economic slowdown and the Chinese policies to invest in green development, as part of their 13th five year plan where greener ways of working and co-existing with the environment are being pursued as top priorities of the world’s second biggest economy .

More ‘green money’ is needed

One of the main conclusions of the Commission’s report included global diplomacy and action. The latter simply means that the EU has to provide adequate aid to other countries as regards the implementation of their climate goals and invest more funds in green projects. Will the simple combination of European Structural and Investment Funds (ESI) with the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) be just enough in financing green projects globally?

The ESI Funds programmes focus among others on climate change adaptation and risk management. The EC decided on February 22 to combine the latter with the EFSI which is launched by the EC and European Investment Bank to provide additional financial aid by mobilizing private funding for strategic investments. According to European Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen, responsible for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, there are still “huge opportunities for project promoters to apply for EFSI financing as well as ESI Funds.”

The combination of these Funds is supposed to fill the investment gaps that are created in financing EU projects by covering different risks. This move can be helpful and may create opportunities for new projects which are riskier to be funded separately by each Fund.

However, green investments have to increase to a much more significant extent if Europe needs to meet its targets and even surpass them by 2030 (40% emissions reduction). The work of the current Juncker Commission is going to already define the ultimate result in 15 years from now.

Further, the EU needs to locate now additional alternatives not only within the bloc but also at the rest of the world. Green finance is a too hot topic globally and under the auspices of the United Nations the right enabling finance mechanism is being explored and formed now as we speak. Vast green investment opportunities lie in all corners of the world, especially the developing part. Is the EU busy at all with that? Such an initiative could increase EU and global growth and most importantly  reduce the global greenhouse gas emissions contributing to a cleaner environment.

All in all, EU officials should roll up their sleeves now and get down to proactive and innovative work  rather than filling their day with commenting on green reports about the obvious. Climate is in great danger now and the Old Continent should prove that it has what it takes to remain at the green driver’s seat of the world for a long time.

Thus, it is time now for the EU to think out of the box and start spending a lot of new investment euros on climate.

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