After all the good words on climate, it’s now getting uncomfortably specific
Editorial by Jos Dings, T&E Director A year ago, Europe was singing the praises of the low carbon economy, and how it would prepare us for a future where carbon would be contained. Angela Merkel had just persuaded her fellow EU leaders to sign up to the ‘20 20 2020’ package: 20% greenhouse gas reduction and 20% renewable energy by 2020.
[mailchimp_signup][/mailchimp_signup]And yet, over the past months, the proposals to indeed achieve this low carbon economy have become – shall we say – uncomfortably specific. The Commission has put proposals on the table that specify which member states and which sectors should do what. The result is predictable. Members and sectors alike claim they are special, very special indeed. And invariably and unsurprisingly these special circumstances are arguments for less ambitious targets.
Everyone claims they have worked harder than others over the past decades. That all sorts of external factors, from geography to consumer demand, hamper further pro-gress. That progress in their country or sector is more expensive than in other countries or sectors. Sectors in the EU ETS all argue they are more sensitive to competition than the other sectors, and that the 21% reduction target for the ETS should therefore be relaxed. Sectors outside the ETS (such as the car industry) argue that proposed regulations are too much too soon, but refuse to endorse long-term targets.
How can this difference be explained? One factor is that the negatively affected sectors – generally those which are well established – are well organised, while positively affected (generally emerging) sectors are not. Another is that positively affected business often supplies to negatively affected customers. Suppliers to the car industry stand to gain from CO2 regulation, but, with only a few exceptions, their public declarations are finely tuned to their customers’ interests, rather than their own.
The same goes for aircraft makers. The tougher the climate rules in aviation, the quicker old aircraft will be replaced by new ones – so why does Airbus stay silent? All this time, policy makers at the top tend to understand that important decisions need to be taken to contain climate change and energy imports, but this big picture gets easily lost in nitty-gritty sectoral debates. Does no-one make the point that record oil prices are a very good reason to make cars more fuel efficient?
Maybe we, the environmental NGO, should be shouting this louder? Maybe we also need some sympathy for MEPs and officials. Imagine you have to meet five sectors in one day all saying they have done more than others and that action in their sector will hurt the economy more than somewhere else – at the end it must be tempting to just vote for the common interest again.
We have known for years that the Brussels lobby is heavily weighted in favour of existing interests, and this is becoming clearer than ever with the energy and climate packages. The specific sectoral pleas are sounding increasingly hollow. Now is the time for the big picture to prevail over sectoral whining. In half a year’s time we will know a lot more about whether it has or not.