Environmental associations sharply criticize the decisions of the EU summit. They say the rescue package will not make Europe climate neutral by 2050.
Climate not in view: Rutte, Michel, von der Leyen and Macron (from left) at the EU summit Photo: ap
The European Union achieved a breakthrough at its recent summit. Thanks to joint debt, states particularly affected by Corona, such as Italy, can receive hundreds of billions of euros in non-repayable grants. But is there also a breakthrough in climate policy?
While German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) was cautiously positive about the results, criticism predominates among environmental associations. "For future generations, this is a bad deal," said Kai Niebert, head of the umbrella organization Deutscher Naturschutzring (DNR). And WWF Executive Director Christoph Heinrich complained that too little money was available to achieve the targeted climate neutrality by 2050.
It took the heads of government four days to put together a package worth over 1,800 billion euros. This includes the EU budgets for the next seven years with around 1.074 trillion and the program to overcome the Corona crisis with 750 billion euros. The main aim is to revive the economy, which was badly hit by the pandemic. Climate protection is also mentioned, but does not play a central role.
The Council resolution states that 30 percent of the total 1.8 trillion euros must be spent on "climate protection measures" that serve the "goal of a climate-neutral EU by 2050." To ensure and verify this, the EU wants to develop an "effective methodology," although this is not described in detail.
Funds for coal regions
In addition, a new "Fair Transition Fund" is being set up, the resources of which will help coal regions, especially in Bulgaria, Germany, Greece and Poland, to create new jobs after the phase-out of fossil energies. 17.5 billion euros are available for this purpose.
Finally, the EU plans to tap new sources of money that can also benefit climate protection. These include a "border adjustment system" to tax carbon-dioxide-intensive imported products, the inclusion of air and sea transport in emissions trading, and a levy on non-recycled plastic waste.
Environmental groups are particularly critical of the level of funding for climate protection. "Tying 30 percent of planned EU spending to climate neutrality is not nearly enough," said WWF spokesman Julian Philipp. "If the EU wants to be climate neutral by 2050 and meet the 1.5-degree target, it will have to use at least 40 percent to do so."
This figure, however, is more grabbed than calculated. "The requirement should be understood as an order of magnitude to ensure the implementation of a higher EU climate target by 2030," Philipp said. Environment Minister Schulze, on the other hand, stressed that at least there is more money than before: "The climate quota in the EU budget will be increased from the current 20 to 30 percent."
Traffic light for sustainability
Admittedly, this is only a declaration of intent for the time being. It is questionable whether the billions will actually be used for climate protection. The Ministry of the Environment also seems to have doubts. "The commitment to climate and environmental protection is important and necessary, but the concrete distribution of the funds must also be in line with this," Schulze warned.
WWF spokesman Philipp gets more specific: He criticized that the climate billions were not explicitly tied to the new EU taxonomy rating system. This classification for investments works like a kind of traffic light for sustainability. The fact that the EU’s own classification system is not addressed in the Council decision may be due to opposition from countries like Poland.
In the case of the Just Transition Fund, a thorn in the side of the environmental associations is that the approach of 17.5 billion euros remained far below the originally stated order of magnitude. The Commission’s Green Deal decision of January 2020 still spoke of "30 to 50 billion euros."
Hoping for EU Parliament
"Chancellor Merkel and the other heads of state and government have saved at the wrong corners. The EU Parliament must now iron out the weak points as far as possible," says Germanwatch climate expert Audrey Mathieu. Negotiations for this are to be completed by the end of September. The Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology, on the other hand, says the glass of the "Just Transition Fund" is half full.
There is also a gap in the current resolution at a crucial point. The heads of government have not yet been able to bring themselves to increase the reduction target for greenhouse gases from the current minus 40 percent compared to 1990 to up to 55 percent by 2030.
Environmental organizations are even calling for emissions of climate-damaging gases to be reduced by 65 percent in 10 years. In their statement last weekend, the governments only emphasize that they want to set the new climate target for 2030 this year.