Tuesday, September 21

When improving what there was is not enough

The appearance of the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” is often marked as a turning point in social awareness of climate change; however today we can no longer look at the problem as we did then. Not even like we did a decade ago. As NASA revealed just a month ago, the magnitude of the problem has accelerated beyond expectations: the amount of heat trapped by the Earth from the Sun has doubled in just 15 years, since 2005.

With the meteorological catastrophes in Europe or North America, these days it is clearer than ever something that the Global South has known for a long time: climate change is not (only) about polar bears but about human lives. Dozens of dead and missing under the water or in the flames testify to this. A recent study indicates that 10% of global deaths are due today to episodes of extreme temperatures that in Europe especially hit our country. Against this background, the measures announced by Brussels in the middle of this month are interpreted as clearly insufficient.

The World Meteorological Organization it states that since the year of the signing of the Paris Agreement we have experienced the warmest five-year period (2015-2019) since there are records. The new normal is no longer a still photo, but something in constant redefinition, mutating at a speed that scares scientists. Hence, the ambitious political proposals are therefore not necessarily sufficient for the challenge that lies ahead.

What has Brussels announced?

The european commission Just released the most important legislative package in the entire history of the Union on climate and energy – the so-called “Fit for 55” package. And yet it is insufficient and is not up to the challenge, because it is becoming increasingly elusive. These measures have been proposed as a consequence of the new climate goal for 2030 that the European Union (EU) adopted in late 2020 and that has finally been consolidated in the European Climate Law last June, committing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% on a net basis – that is, allowing sinks to be accounted for to a certain extent, albeit to a limited extent. This new objective forces him to reform all the legislation in the matter of climate and energy adapted to that “at least 55%”. That “at least” is not innocuous and it cost a lot of negotiation in its day. It means that 55% is the minimum level of ambition of this legislative reform, which could and should aspire to more.

What is needed is very clear: according to science and according to the Paris Agreement, this legislative package (like any other measure that is approved) has to be in line with the 1.5ºC target. Overcoming this increase in average temperature at the end of the century on the planet would condemn a huge number of people to death and would mean the destruction of many ecosystems. For this, the EU must commit to reducing its emissions by at least 65% and thus contribute fairly and in accordance with its responsibility in generating this problem with global repercussions.

However, despite increasing ambition somewhat compared to 55%, the announced measures do not reach that necessary level, and there are around 57-59% reductions. And that is counting the potential of emissions to be captured by sinks such as forests (net emissions), something gruesome and objectionable, since the removal of carbon from the atmosphere by our trees or wetlands should be something additional and not a compensation for the lack of real action in reducing emissions. If we do not count the sinks, the actual level of emission reduction promised is even less than 55%.

The different legislative measures

Although there are more legislative measures proposed (such as a mechanism for carbon adjustment at the border, the revision of the directive on energy taxation, new emission standards for vehicles, …) and others that are to come (such as the buildings directive or a gas package), here are some of the main elements that allow us to speak of insufficient ambition.

Renewables: The Commission proposes that 40% of the final energy used in 2030 be of renewable origin, far from the 50% necessary. This unambitious objective is not understood, taking into account that the technologies for the generation of renewable energy are developed, available and are viable. Furthermore, the Commission fails to reintroduce mandatory targets by country, something that could delay the energy transition in many of them that would rely on the efforts of the most advanced countries to meet the EU target.

Energy efficiency: positively, the proposal contemplates increasing the energy efficiency target to 36% for final energy consumption and to 39% for primary energy consumption by 2030. In addition, interesting obligations to reduce energy demand are established for the public sector. However, although the target will be binding for the EU, it falls far short of the necessary 45% and there will still be no binding targets at state level, which means missing an opportunity to involve member states much more effectively in the implementation of the “efficiency first” principle.

Sinks: The proposal for a new regulation on Land Use, Land Use Change, and Forestry -which aims to address carbon fluxes in the EU’s forests and soils-, proposes increasing the capacity of these sinks so that they capture more CO2 from the atmosphere. However, the proposal falls far short of the potential for capture derived from an ambitious plan to conserve biodiversity. The protection of biodiversity and the fight against climate change can benefit synergistically, but the emissions “saved” by forests should never be counted as part of the EU reduction target, but instead should be higher benefits.

Diffuse sectors: The proposed reduction target for sectors not included in the emissions trading system, that is, agriculture, road transport, buildings, or waste is 40% by 2030. It represents an increase compared to 30% in force, and maintains responsibility for the action in the member states, with mandatory reduction targets by country (37.7% for Spain). However, the global objective remains far from the necessary 50%, and a series of flexibilities and gaps are introduced that weaken the strength of the objective.

Emission rights trading regime (ETS): The new objective aims to reduce emissions from the sectors under this regime (so far electricity generation, industry, and aviation) by 61% by 2030, far from the 70% required. A positive development is that emissions from the maritime sector, which were previously unregulated, are now included in the system (incorporating international shipping to some extent as well), but emissions from international air transport will continue to be governed by the inefficient CORSIA system. And something that cries out to heaven: the industry will continue to receive free emission permits, which is totally unacceptable when they have been doing so for more than 15 years.

In addition, the Commission proposes a new system (ETS2) for the residential and road transport sectors from 2026, with a reduction target of 43%. Fuel suppliers for these sectors would have to buy emission rights, which will have an impact on fuel prices, with the risk of significantly impacting those most vulnerable families who already suffer loss of purchasing power, which can lead to serious social tensions such as that experienced with the yellow vests in France.

Climate Social Fund: The Commission proposes the creation of a Climate Social Fund to partially alleviate the effects, endowed with € 72 billion for the period 2025-2032, of which Spain would account for just over 10%. To apply to these funds, the member states would have to present social climate plans, which they would have to co-finance at 50%, where they must detail how they intend to benefit households and transport users in vulnerable situations, as well as vulnerable SMEs with less than ten employees, among others.

However, it is not clear that this social fund is going to solve the magnitude of the problem or ensure that it reaches those who need it: a fair eco-social transition will require much greater redistribution of costs, where the big polluters take charge of what they pay. It plays according to the “polluter pays” principle. In addition, strong support for the most vulnerable social layers will be vital, as well as more inclusive and participatory governance at local, regional, state and EU levels. The fact that large economic players continue to profit for free while the final consumer takes charge of the increased bill is simply unacceptable.

We need more: an opportunity for the European Parliament and the Council

Delaying climate action will only make things worse for everyone, but especially for those most vulnerable and for those who have contributed the least to the problem. Falling short today not only means increasing the cost of action exponentially tomorrow, but perhaps losing the last chance to avoid dire consequences in terms of intergenerational justice. For this reason, European citizens must become aware of the historical moment in which we find ourselves and put pressure on the European Parliament and the different Member States to achieve, in the coming months, to align this legislative package with the 1.5ºC objective.