Climate, energy and environment are most vital issues in the member states’ recovery and resilience programs. National policies towards necessary reforms are usually centered on sustainability, environment and energy safety requirements. Underlining such priorities as the “end-of-life-product” management, the reduction of hazardous substances, extended energy and producer’s responsibility, as well as the environmental protection legal basis, the member states have to introduce a new kind of political economy. To reach such goals and targets in the national plans very concrete actions at every level of governance will be necessary; are the states ready?
The present decade is a key point for implementation of the sustainability (SDGs) and for climate action in the member states: the national governance and the business community have to be fundamentally involved; otherwise, the EU states and corporate entities could expect more climate lawsuits and risk fines reminiscent of tobacco trials some years ago.
But oil producers would not give up: they would try by all means to keep the old-pattern workable, although modern politicians are stepping their efforts in forcing oil companies to take radical action to slash greenhouse gas emissions; for example, a Dutch court ordered at the end of May 2021 the oil giant Shell to cut its emissions by 45 percent. Besides, the legal suits are commonly increasing: about 3,000 have been filed since 2000 and their pace is expected to grow as climate changes’ concerns are raising in national and global political agenda.
And so is a similar picture with the health related smoking habits: the European Commission published its first report on the Tobacco Products Directive in May 2021 five years after it became applicable in 2016. Thanks to the directive, the EU has witnessed steady decreases in smoking rates and tobacco use; however, more efforts are needed. Thus the Commission points out two main areas in improvements: enforcement at national level and better consideration of new market developments (e.g. new and less damaging tobacco products). The EU has set a very clear objective – to create a tobacco-free generation in Europe, where less than 5 percent of people would use tobacco by 2040. With 27 percent of all cancers attributed to its use, tobacco is the single largest avoidable health risk in Europe. The EU’s “beating cancer plan” has become a key pillar of the Union’s health policy aimed at creating a “tobacco-free generation” by 2040. To reach this highly ambitious goal the member states need an urgent mobilization of the whole available arsenal of tobacco control tools and means. Source: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_21_2563
But with rising concern about climate change, the Commission is being pushed to take radical action. There is a vital component in the green growth based on renewables: as is well known, there can be no “green growth” without sustainability and the “blue-growth” component in sustainable blue economy for a successful European green deal. The oceans and seas surrounding the European continent have huge potentials in meeting national and the EU climate targets while supporting the economic recovery and resilience. As one of the global offshore wind company, the Equinor, for example, willingly contributes with its industrial experiences to realize the Europe’s offshore wind programs: recently (in early summer 2021), the company awarded contracts to develop two more offshore wind farms in the Baltic Sea, with a total combined capacity of 1440 MW, which could power more than 2 million Polish households. In total, the company is developing 3 GW of low-cost renewable capacity. Preserving biodiversity and sensitive areas in the marine environment are of particular importance; hence the Equinor’s policy is to rely on environmental impact and strengthened commitment to biodiversity.
Historically, in the case of tobacco, for example, politicians were hesitant to harm a deep-pocketed industry; with the increased health concern and medical advice, the public health activists turned to the courts. The same thing is presently happening with the climate change issues: scientific warnings are increasingly dire and there are growing action campaigns; though lawmakers and regulators are timid about upsetting powerful interests of big players in industries, like Dutch farmers, German carmakers or massive oil companies.
Research released on May 26, 2021 by the World Meteorological Organization found that there was a decent chance: about 40 percent of the world’s population temporarily pushes past 1.5 degrees warming in the coming five years. Climate scientists at the Grantham Institute, Imperial College London acknowledged that the present time climate-supportive measures are “wholly insufficient”.
Source: K. Oroschakoff, K. Mathiesen in: https://www.politico.eu/article/big-oil-is-the-next-big-tobacco/
Oil companies long lobbied against doing anything serious to stop global warming, despite many of their scientists being well aware of the threat. As the politics have shifted, many have announced climate measures, albeit ones carefully designed not to wreak havoc on their bottom lines. E.g. Shell Company in May 2021laid out its Energy Transition Strategy, which calls for cutting the carbon intensity of its products by 20 percent by 2030 and becoming net zero on emissions by 2050 (the move was backed by shareholders). But the court ruling is much more radical, saying Shell’s plan is “not concrete and is full of conditions.” If the verdict survives Shell’s appeal, it will force a complete rethink of how the company does business. The ruling signals courts are now willing to dictate climate policy to corporations as well as governments.
European energy efficiency plans are at the center of the EU’s long-term development strategy. However, in reality the “fuel-energy” is still too far from the outcome and often overlooked as compared to supply-side options. In order to prioritise energy efficiency options when they are more beneficial than supply-side options, a more thorough discussion, understanding, and guidance is needed in which policy areas and at which decision-making steps the Energy Efficiency First (EEF) principle can and should be applied.
To consequently implement the EEF principle in all steps of the governance and the decision-making process, it is necessary to value the benefits of energy efficiency (EE) against the supply-side options. Hereby, recent Commission publication revealed some first steps to assess whether energy efficiency is an alternative to a regular-energy-supply option; the second step should be to assess the costs of the two options for the national budgets; both go beyond the mere direct economic costs necessary to implement the various options.
Contemporary research shows that the EE options are often performing better than the supply-side options when taking multiple impacts, such as environmental or employment. Looking at the benefits over the lifetime of the projects, EE options often have the advantage that they have smaller operating costs than supply-side options; besides, often decision-makers are trained to very specific considerations when deciding for a certain option. Thus it is known that these considerations might systematically undervalue the advantages of the EE’s options.
More generally, the EEF principle is, therefore, necessary to widen the spectrum of indicators, which evaluate the best option; the principles can be applied both in policy-making, in planning processes, and for concrete investment decisions. The y are definitely applicable to energy-related processes and decisions as well as to other economy’s sectors, including transport, water, digitalization and all kinds of natural resources.
European energy and climate neutrality’s perspectives
The EU’s political agenda includes a far-reaching goal to become the first in the world climate-neutral continent by 2050, moving from a fossil fuel-based energy system to a decarbonised economy. For this to happen, the member states have to install more renewable electricity generation (e.g. solar panels, wind turbines and increasingly offshore), sell more hybrid-electric cars and use energy more efficiently; hence, the overall use of electricity in the regional energy system will increase significantly.
At the same time, the role of oil and natural gas will decrease while the share of renewables and low-carbon processes will have to increase in some economy sectors; therefore, a strategically planned political economy and integrated energy infrastructures are essential to achieve these objectives. Renewable energy is to be incorporated into the national electric-grid, and then transmits and distributes energy across the EU-28 from the supply source (whether imported or generated within the EU) to the end user, or stores energy until it is needed. On the other hand, this approach provides for a reliable and secure energy system that helps to keep prices at check.
The EU energy and developing policies encourage the European states to cooperate more efficiently with neighbouring countries; good progress in the EU’s energy infrastructure occurred in recent years.
An important part of the cross-border infrastructure projects are so-called “projects of common interest (PCIs), which benefit many people and corporate facilities interest in the EU’s regions concerned. They help to achieve main EU’s energy and climate policies’ objectives, such as affordable, secure and sustainable energy for all: thus, between 2014 and 2020, the EU funding instrument “Connecting Europe Facility” contributed to the financing of the development of 107 PCIs, with a total budget of € 4.7 billion; about two-thirds of this amount was spent on electricity transmission and storage projects, as well as smart electricity grids.
Note: Projects of common interest benefit from: accelerated planning and permit granting; a single national authority for obtaining permits; improved regulatory conditions; lower administrative costs due to streamlined environmental assessment processes; increased public participation via consultations; and increased visibility to investors.
With this energy policy financial and technical support from the EU, the member states and regions have been able to diversify their energy sources, improve inter-connections and secure safe and affordable energy supplies. A perspective task is to gradually adapt the system based on a decarbonised energy system and alter the currently dominating one based on fossil-fuel system; this vital infrastructure transition must happen, the Commission acknowledged, “in a way that all EU citizens and companies continue to have safe and secure access to their energy requirements at affordable prices”. These perspectives highlight, at the same time, the important role hydrogen can play in helping to decarbonize hard-to-abate industries and collaborating to create a viable hydrogen value chain in “greening companies” working together to progress the energy transition.
Source: https://ec.europa.eu/info/news/in-focus-making-eus-energy-infrastructure-fit-climate-neutrality-2021-jun-15_en?pk_campaign=ENER%20Newsletter%20June%202021; in “creative Europe” a feasible financial support for projects in states’ cooperation are possible with at least 3 countries to be involved. For example, in business the goals must be: promoting business innovation and competitiveness, as well as sectoral support for perspective research and publishing the outcomes achieved. Reference: https://ec.europa.eu/info/funding-tenders/opportunities/portal/screen/programmes/crea2027
Zero pollution plans
The EU’s “Zero Pollution Action Plan” for a toxic-free European environment was adopted by the Commission in mid-May 2021. The Action Plan, AP is one of the key overarching strategies of the European Green Deal, aimed to ensure a healthy and habitable planet. The states’ ministers exchanged views on the AP’s scope, on the level of ambition, on the need for synergies with other policy areas and on the main implementation and enforcement actions provided in the national plan. These plans are supposed to have the following main components: reducing the number of premature deaths caused by air pollution by 55 percent and the share of people chronically disturbed by transport noise by 30 percent.
The other component is in the area of environment and connected to batteries with the progress made on the Commission proposal, adopted in December 2020. The Commission is fully committed to a successful conclusion of the negotiations in the first half of 2022. That would allow this vital piece of legislation to come into force in time to influence the major increase in battery production expected in 2023. It is a very ambitious timetable, and the states have to focus on making further progress and to ensure high quality legislation.
The Agrifish Council at the end of May also discussed the risk assessment of pesticides on bees, which needs to be strengthened: all member states have to ensure closer cooperation on this important matter and to ensure the EU is set on the right path to reverse the decline of pollinators by 2030. The issue is closely linked to zero pollution with the need to reverse the decline of pollinators. As insect populations, including wild pollinators, are declining at an unprecedented rate, the member states’ ministers call for reinforced EU action to reverse the trend. The Commission has just reviewed the EU Pollinators’ Initiative and will now start work in view of a possible revision. Source: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/SPEECH_21_2922
For example, the Commission is presently discussing a radical ban on combustion engines: cars powered by diesel and gasoline may have only 14-15 years left in the EU, i.e. zero-emission targets will be valid for vehicles sold beyond 2035; the move would be a huge shift from the current situation in auto-industry standards meant to be technology-neutral. The new rules for the EU’s car emissions reduction standards (as part of the EU’s Green Deal plan to hit net-zero CO2 emissions by mid-century) have to be altered in order to reach the bloc’s 2030 target to mandate a 60 percent reduction in car emissions, compared to the current cur of about 37.5 percent. The target was agreed only in 2018 after a long and bitter fight; hence, the whole strategy might be too fast and too cumbersome, as the necessary “components” are difficult to install in the member states, including e.g. charging infrastructures for electric cars, and the reduction would raise to 100 percent by 2035.
However, by further increasing emissions standards the car industry is motivated to switch to new technology. Under the “green deal”, transport emissions are supposed to fall by 90 percent by 2050; cars have a 15-year cycle to clear older, dirtier models off the road, which means 2035 is the deadline to end sales to meet the 2050 target.
Although the final G7 communiqué (June 2021) only mentioned a vague commitment “to accelerate the transition away from new sales of diesel and petrol cars”, some countries are already starting to move. Thus, e.g. the UK plans to end the sale of combustion engine cars by 2030 and to include plug-in hybrids by 2035; France has set a 2040 phase-out date, but there is pressure to move that up; besides, many cities are also preparing to ban conventional cars from their streets.
The results not words are important in any policy’s guidelines: as they say, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”; so the true intentions and results are hopefully to be seen shortly.