This week of October 5-9 was an important one for our climate. The European Parliament made an important first step towards climate protection. We voted in favour of a 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, decided to end subsidies for fossil fuels, agreed on a CO2 budget for Europe and to establish a scientific climate council, thus cementing the European climate ambitions into binding clauses. This goes beyond the Commission’s proposal of 55% of greenhouse emission cuts and puts backwards-looking voices in their places, albeit with a very thin majority.
A European Climate Law is without a doubt crucial to fulfil the Paris Agreement and to keep global warming at bay. The plenary votes were indeed a milestone for climate protection – but while many celebrate a “huge success for the climate”, we should be very clear that we are far from resting on our laurels.
We don’t have to look very far to see that time is more than pressing: Forests are burning, polar caps melting and we are looking back on a worrying record of heatwaves across Europe, which even made the eternal Brussels drizzle disappear. In other words: If we do take the Paris Agreement seriously, if we do want to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees and if we do want to live in a climate-neutral Europe by 2050, our work is not even close to being done. And it will never be done if we keep on falling back on weak compromises.
Cutting back on 60% of emissions over the next decade is already an ambitious goal but the ENVI committee should have aimed higher and missed an important opportunity by not agreeing on a cutback of 65% in emissions by 2030.
Nevertheless, ambitious as our goals are, we will have to move without hesitation and especially the European energy sector will have to prove itself as a striving, modern and forward-thinking industry, ensuring sufficient energy supply and not jeopardizing jobs. This means that we have to stay open to suitable new technologies for energy production and find the right technologies for the transition phase between today and a climate-neutral Europe. This will probably not be possible without compromise but we need to make sure that any such compromise will not reverse the progress we made and put the climate goals at risk.
Browsing through the Climate Law documents, one could find considerations that make you rub your eyes in disbelief. Some MEPs do not seem to have learned any lessons from science or recent history, mentioning the word “nuclear” as a climate-neutral possibility. Nuclear power comes by no means without a carbon footprint. Apart from the obvious issue of where to store the burned-out radioactive fuel rods, the whole production chain of nuclear energy emits greenhouse gasses.
Nuclear energy is a dangerous pseudo-solution to the climate crisis, which is still uncontrollable for us. Currently, scientists and politicians in Germany are arguing about the right place for a permanent disposal site. With no solution yet in sight. Whoever is serious about climate neutral solutions should not make short-sighted energy-related decisions in the face of one of the greatest threats that modern humankind is dealing with.
Instead of spending money on refitting technologies that are neither safe, sustainable nor climate-neutral, we have to invest in renewables. Politics has to understand that we need to be courageous when it comes to sustainability and that we have to pursue solutions that are in fact climate-neutral and do not run on fossil or radioactive resources.
Acting swiftly to enter into the energy transition-phase and staying open to new technologies should also come with a change in the regulatory framework. To provide for adequate financial resources for the transition-phase, we need to activate the budget from the Green Deal. Now, politics has the momentum and unique opportunity to win the industry over for this important system change, given that the right regulatory requirements are provided for and that sufficient financial resources are available. This also means that we will have to adjust the legal framework concerning state aid rules. We need to ensure that in certain cases, operating expenses (OPEX) are covered during the transition-phase.
This week has been a first step in the right direction. We need to keep in mind though, that this also has been a week of compromise. What matters now is that the next steps we take bring us closer to the ambitious goals that we set out to reach. We will have to be courageous and reasonable, financing the technologies that carry the mission of the Green Deal at heart.