EU policy: Crucial detail missing from Europe's new climate target

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Tuesday, February 6, 2024, 5:15 p.m.

With the expansion of the EU, coal consumption in the international community could increase dramatically. But when it comes to setting the climate goal for 2040, the candidate countries have so far been left out. For this reason, the Böll Foundation warns against the influence of China and Russia. By Manuel Berkel.

When the Commission announces its proposal for a new climate target on Tuesday, Europe's future will probably not be mentioned. Member states are expected to save 90 percent of their greenhouse gases by 2040. All Member States?

Ten countries in the east and south-east of the continent want to join the EU27 and at least the countries of the Western Balkans have a good chance of being able to celebrate this event in the 2030s. But the Commission itself indirectly admits that it did not involve the candidate countries in the most important project of its future climate policy.

A Commission official refers to the public consultation that the authority carried out last year: “No position paper was received from the candidate countries.” The issue of expansion was also not raised in the meetings with interest groups. However, this places the Commission in a very delicate situation.

The EU turns a blind eye to the bigger picture

Citizens of the Member States, scientists and, above all, NGOs and business associations normally participate in Commission consultations. They are not the format for government negotiations. “Despite some detailed efforts, the EU turns a blind eye to the bigger picture,” complains Eleonora Allena of the Climate Action Network. “The opportunity to include the Western Balkans in setting climate goals for 2040 is being missed.” in a format that has already been practiced. The objectives of cooperation with the eastern neighbors have not yet been negotiated.

The Energy Community continues to work on the implementation of the objectives for 2030

“The Commission and the Member States could also have started consulting the candidate countries within the framework of the Energy Community, as is the case with the 2030 targets,” says Jörg Mühlenhoff of the Böll Foundation. Unfortunately, this step has not yet been taken either. The Energy Community aims to help the European Union's neighbors adopt their energy and climate laws. All EU candidate countries are contracting parties there, except Turkey, which has observer status. The Energy Community explains the lack of participation in the Summit 2040 framework with the current Fit for 55 package for 2030: “Our main objective currently is the practical implementation of this goal.”

Higher ambitions than in member states

On paper, the contracting parties want to reduce their emissions even more than the EU by 2030: 60.9 percent, according to the Energy Community. “However, our analysis has shown that Western Balkan states are far from achieving their 2030 targets,” says Allena. Last June, the Climate Action Network asked that this extension be taken into account when setting the climate goal. With accession, the high proportion of fossil energy in many future EU states will become a common problem.

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Coal consumption would increase by almost half with accession

“The heavy reliance on coal-fired power plants could make it especially difficult for Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to reduce their emissions by 90 percent by 2040,” says Mühlenhoff. According to figures from the International Energy Agency (IEA), coal consumption is (many times higher than in the Western Balkans) in Ukraine and especially in Turkey. If all ten candidate countries joined the EU, coal consumption in the international community would increase by around 46 percent compared to 2021 levels.

If these countries do not align their energy supply with EU targets, they will face high emissions trading costs if they join. For the Commission and the EU states this means that they must offer better support to the candidate countries, both materially and humanly.

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Western Balkan authorities feel overwhelmed

“The Moldovan authorities already benefit from increasing support from the EU on energy and climate legislation,” explains a spokesperson for the Moldovan delegation in Brussels, “but they have additional technical and specialized help from the EU for their implementation” . Demand Lea Fanku, an employee of the Albanian delegation, also analyzes the government apparatus in the Western Balkan countries in a guest article for the European Council on Foreign Relations.

The usual fund for accession candidates – the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) – is not considered by NGOs to be financially sufficient. The issue must be taken into account in the negotiations on the next multiannual financial framework, says Allena. According to the Böll Foundation, the EU can now open the Just Transition Fund, the Recovery and Resilience Fund and REPowerEU to applicants.

Böll Foundation warns of adverse reactions

“It is important to act now, because there could be a violent reaction from national governments,” warns Mühlenhoff. “Candidate countries could retain their fossil energy companies, possibly with the support of Chinese and Russian energy companies.”

So far, the Commission also has its reasons for not extending financial aid further. The latest commitments of the new growth plan for the Western Balkans depend more than before on progress on the rule of law, Fanku writes.

However, the main EU candidate countries in particular have recently announced forward-looking measures. Türkiye wants to introduce emissions trading in 2026, Germany Trade & Invest reports. At the end of January, the Ukrainian government promised a pilot phase of its certificate trading by 2025. Even during war, the industry could understand how this market works, said Environment Minister Ruslan Strilets.