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The Paris deal would have been a great opportunity for Europe to beef up its targets but unfortunately Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete closed the door on that almost immediately. It looks like higher EU ambition would have to come under the review clause of the Paris agreement which is triggered every five years. But that doesn’t mean the Commission can’t be ambitious in other ways. In fact, we believe this provides a unique opportunity to design a climate law that would actually be up to the task of delivering the Paris commitments.
The current ‘Effort Sharing Decision’, or ESD, was designed to meet the very unambitious 2020 target of -10%. The EU was always going to meet that target. 2030 is different. In fact, it’s quite a big deal. A 30% cut in GHG emissions in the transport, buildings and agriculture sectors requires real change. It’s about super-efficient transport systems, where possible electric. But it’s also about much better insulated houses and more sustainable agriculture.
We can’t just take this kind of transformative change for granted. Not everyone stands to win from much cleaner housing, transport or agriculture so there will be opposition (for example, from the oil industry). Without the tools to enforce the 2030 climate targets, this opposition might slow down or undermine progress. Indeed, if we’ve learned one thing from Dieselgate, it is that the Achilles heel of EU law lies in weak enforcement, governance and compliance.
That’s why we need the 2030 ESD to be much stronger. And so if the Commission doesn’t want to increase the ambition now, it should at the very least make sure the ESD is designed so that it can actually cope with higher ambition. Making the ESD fit for Paris as it were.
Last week we published a briefing with five ideas on how this could be done. Let me highlight the three that are dearest to me.
First of all, we need to write a long-term perspective into the new ESD, including a five-year review process. In other words, we won’t get higher ambition now, but when we review the ESD in five years there will need to be a more demanding target and that target needs to put us on track to where we want to be in 2050.
Secondly, we need to beef up the compliance mechanisms. We simply cannot afford one or more member states free-riding. One of the ideas we have is to introduce monetary fines for member states that do not comply with their yearly target – even after using all available flexibility. Another one is to only grant access to certain ‘loopholes’ (such as the use of ETS credits or LULUCF credits) to member states that are complying.
Thirdly, many member states already have carbon budgets and independent climate change committees to help develop and deliver these. The 2030 ESD should mandate these. This would help make climate change policy an integral part of government decision making, rather than an afterthought.
With these amendments, the 2030 ESD would be much stronger. It wouldn’t entirely compensate for the insufficiently ambitious target, but at least it would put us in a much stronger position if and when the ambition of our climate targets is increased.