With the winter holidays approaching, that time of the year when we look back is here. In 2021, the Fit for 55 package created the ideal framework to reduce emissions in the transport sector: the phase-out of the combustion car, increased national climate targets and a new carbon pricing mechanism for ships and cars. In 2022, climate NGOs around the bloc worked hard to make sure that those mechanisms were voted into EU law and strengthened along the way. What’s in store for next year?
Truth be told, we owe an important part of the progress Europe is making during the Von der Leyen presidency to the previous Commission. At the end of the day, it was my compatriot Commissioner Cañete who put forward a 55% 2030 target and the 2050 net-zero goal, accompanied by EU long-term strategy. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. The foundations for the current Commission to build upon were already there.
But let’s also recognise that, for the past three years we have operated in a favourable political context. Climate was a top priority for the EU and the UK. Many governments were at least officially supportive of more ambitious climate action and appetite for government intervention (regulation, public spending, …) was high. This remained true throughout COVID and the initial phase of the Ukraine war.
But is the honeymoon phase over? The political winds might be shifting against us. Populist identity politics are on the rise. Italy has just elected a very conservative prime minister. Time will tell what happens in my home country’s elections next year. This dynamic could influence the next EU strategic agenda and the next Commission’s priorities in a harmful way. But we are also in the midst of an energy crisis and a war on European soil that has created a powerful incentive to accelerate the clean energy transition.
The key question is: what will this Commission do to ensure that the climate remains a top priority when they leave office? As Cañete’s legacy shows, it is possible to set the right framework for those who follow you. 2023 will be crucial. What can Von der Leyen’s team do next year to set the right foundations for the next Commission?
There are three items on the wish list:
First, Europe needs clarity on its post 2030 climate architecture. We need new targets for 2035 and 2040 that ensure Europe is aligned with a 1.5 degree world. These are obligations of the Paris and Glasgow agreements, but the earlier these targets are fixed, the better. A key part to the success will be ensuring that national climate targets are here to stay, alongside a considerably improved governance framework.
Second, the Commission should provide honest feedback to the draft National Energy and Climate Plans (NECP) coming next summer. To achieve the bloc’s 2030 targets, member states were required to establish a 10-year NECP for the period 2021-2030.
In June next year, updates must be submitted. Last time around, most governments included what I would call wishful thinking. For example, a plan including a promotion of natural gas in transport is incompatible with energy security or the net-zero goal. The Commission has a duty to call out this type of nonsense.
Finally, the EU needs a new, clear long-term strategy. Clean Planet for All – a 2018 long-term plan set out by the Juncker Commission for a prosperous, modern and carbon-neutral economy – was an important step, but it is time to narrow things down. For example, on road transport, it is clear that direct electrification will be king. In aviation, biofuels will have a very limited uptake in the best case scenario. On shipping, there are a couple of fuel types that will prevail. By the time the EU’s long-term model is updated, five years will have passed, and technology options will be much clearer than they were four years ago.
Legislators must put the facts on the table again. Is it really possible to decarbonise aviation without tackling demand? We know the answer is no, but just by looking at facts such as additional renewable electricity needed for certain types of green fuels, we will be able to plan accordingly. We need to move away from silo thinking. If we know how we want to reach net zero, then clear industrial strategies will have to follow.
This is my personal Christmas climate wishlist for the Commission in 2023. Both present and future generations deserve these gifts, and it will definitely help those like T&E to continue making progress to confront the biggest challenge of my generation for the years to come.