Ana Fuentes (Strasbourg) | Member of the European Parliament from the S&D group, Miroslav Poche is also the rapporteur for the energy file, which is supposed to help reduce bills for Europeans. We spoke about targets, investment and why the emissions market does not seem to be working.
– The European Parliament has approved a binding 2030 target for renewables (32%) and an indicative target on energy efficiency (32.5%). Is that enough to stop climatic calamity?
I am persuaded that the EU has the capacity to reach the target of 40 %. Energy efficiency is just one of the steps on the way towards fulfilling the obligations stemming from the Paris agreement. I would like to emphasize that we managed to reach an agreement that the revision of the Directive in 2023 must confirm if the EU is on the track to fulfill the Paris climate goals. If we see that the target is insufficient, it will be raised (and the target can never be lowered).
– Each member state must present a ten-year “integrated national energy and climate plan” with national targets, contributions, policies and measures by 31 December 2019, and every ten years thereafter. Will this increase the gap between countries?
The national plans are inevitable in order to be able to set concrete policies at a national level. This is all made for capitals to be able to reach the indicative national targets. I don’t think that there is another way to do it. The national plans will also be a useful tool for comparing the actions at the MS level, including various best practices we can gain from them.
– You were the rapporteur for the energy efficiency file. How will it contribute to reduce bills for Europeans?
If you want to pay less, you cannot avoid to think about your energy consumption and its potential reduction. Saved energy is the cheapest one! Proper insulation or introduction of individual metering is an essential part of it. You should also be able to read your energy bill in the right way, which is quite difficult in many member states. The proposal deals with all these issues. I am also very happy that we managed to get through the proposal of my social democratic group regarding energy poverty. It is the first time the Council agreed to recognize energy poverty and the text calls on Member States to prioritize their investments towards the most vulnerable people.
– According to EU officials this new Energy Package will bring some investment? In which areas? What if that investment comes from countries that want to gain access to strategic sectors in Europe?
Improving energy efficiency is the key aspect of the European transition towards a low-carbon economy and it will not be costless. On the other hand, various studies confirm that the initial investments will be balanced (and later even surpassed) by its economic gains, not to speak about the environmental gains. Tens of thousands of new jobs will be created around the energy efficiency business. The investments towards reaching the energy union will be focused namely on improving the energy efficiency of buildings (including of mandatory percentage for public authorities buildings), on industrial innovation, building networks and including grids and, of course, to improving energy efficiency. The financial resources will be available at the public level (e.g. EFSI of Structural funds in the case of EED – let me mention that a large percentage of structural funds will be focused on the green economy) but, of course, they are here especially to motivate the private sector investments, including those coming from abroad. The problem of third countries that want to gain access to strategic sectors in Europe is nothing new and has not emerged because of the energy union. Member States are responsible to set conditions that will protect the strategic sectors and the Commission should use all the available tools to control it.
– We have seen many progressive lawmakers emphasizing the need to ‘transform our energy system’ but they did not discuss how to pursue it… Maybe because doing so can complicate things at home? I am thinking of French President Emmanuel Macron freezing the fuel tax rise due to the social unrest wave. How can politicians honestly discuss what we must do to move to zero-carbon emissions when their potential voters feel threatened by those measures?
It is very difficult to conduct any information campaign in the current times of disinformation as well as when various information overwhelm you, yet this is the key task for any politician. I cannot objectively judge the situation in France where social unrest and strikes are more common than in other parts of Europe. I believe in positive campaigning, education that starts already at earlier stages of school system and I believe that civil society and media must become an essential part of it. Arguments, facts and clear explanations must replace emotional and misleading messages. At the same time, you cannot take out one issue from the global approach – if people feel betrayed, there are much more complex reasons behind it, the rising price of oil just triggers some reaction.
– Even if one government were to go to zero carbon it would make almost no difference, a global strategy is needed to get a real impact. But then the world’s first economy is in denial of climate change. Does this mean that your efforts at the EU will be in vain unless you get the US on board?
The US must be on board and I believe the US will be on board. Don’t forget that the US is not Donald Trump. Even if Trump denies climate change, there are many other influences on changing behavior such as individual governors, individual cities, civil society. For instance California launched its carbon cap program in 2013. The US will be moving in the right direction without Donald Trump. It would, of course, be much more efficient if the push comes from the federal level. No effort towards zero carbon will be in vain, EU plays quite an essential role in here. And don’t forget one thing – the investments will twist into new technologies, new know-how. This is exactly what the EU needs in the global market.
– Can we globally move to zero emissions across transportation, agriculture, electricity without a collapse of civilization? Is there any evidence that greenhouse gases can be safely buried?
Maybe you think of the quote of Sir David Attenborough at COP24 who said: „If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon”. I just second to his statement. We will have to globally move to zero emissions if we want to save our civilisation in a long-term perspective.
As regards your second question on greenhouse gases, let me point out a study published in 2016 in the journal Nature Communications. The findings demonstrated the viability of a process called carbon capture and storage as a solution to reduce carbon emissions from coal and gas-fired power stations. The research showed that the natural accumulations of CO2 that have been trapped underground for around 100,000 years have not significantly corroded the rocks above, suggesting that storing CO2 in reservoirs deep underground is much safer and more predictable over long periods of time than previously thought.
– Ironically, the US didn’t ratify the Kyoto protocol but has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions thanks to fracking. Is it worth to save the air by ruining the soil?
I am totally against fracking and against any other form of “driving the devil out by the help of demon” (as the Czech proverb says). The solutions we need to find must be sustainable and definitely not to the detriment of another natural catastrophe.
– Why does the emissions market not seem to work?
The European emissions trading scheme is the centrepiece of Europe’s climate policy, however the results have not met our expectations. The core problem lays in its effectiveness in cutting emissions across Europe, and there will be no effectiveness if the price for carbon remains so low, despite of its increase in recent months. The overallocation of allowances is, among others, a result of companies being more energy efficient in reducing emissions, which has kept the carbon price low, allowing factories, power stations and other emitters to pay to pollute. I missed a stronger emphasize on ETS in the debates on the Clean energy package, which i consider to be a mistake. The EU ETS must be better aligned with other policies and avoid a situation where, for example, renewables or higher energy efficiency weaken ETS ambition by lowering the carbon price. ETS and energy policies have to complement, not to substitute each other.
-Today, a car can make 100km with one third of the energy it needed 15 years ago. Could that relationship be extrapolated to the industry in general?
Absolutely. In fact, between 1990 and 2014, energy efficiency in industry increased by 36 % in the EU-28, at an annual average rate of 1.8 % per year. However, there is still much room for improvement and we must further encourage industries to use cleaner technologies, more efficient methods and better industrial procedures in order to reduce their negative impact on the environment.
– The World Bank will invest $200bn to combat climate change– a sum available for 2021-25, which represents a doubling of current five-year plan. Do you believe it’s enough? What would you say is more urgent: more investment from public or private entities, or changing the whole paradigm?
I welcome the World Bank Group’s pledge to deliver $200 billion helping poor countries reduce their emissions and adapt to a changing climate, in particular the World Bank’s commitment to spend 50% on adaptation. When it comes to investment, I am persuaded that both the private and public sectors should invest more to meet climate targets. They are both equally important and must join forces. Governments play a key role to make businesses more aware of climate risks and boost private sector engagement through appropriate incentives for adaptation measures and, where necessary, provide regulation to avoid shifting risks to the public. The private sector can, on the other hand, mobilize financial resources and technical capabilities, leverage the efforts of governments and civil society and community efforts, and thus develop innovative climate services and adaptation technologies. Managing climate change will bring better environment for people but can also be a good business oportunity.