COP27: The way forward for the EU after the climate change conference

COP27: The way forward for the EU after the climate change conference
© WWF - Fernando Zarur

More than a week after the UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) ended in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, the European Commission has not yet assessed its impact and how it plans to deal with the two main issues at the conference.

COP27 was supposed to focus on the reduction of green-house gas (GHG) emissions to keep the objective of limiting global warming to 1.5°C alive. The other main issue was a loss and damage fund to compensate vulnerable countries that are most affected by climate change and catastrophic weather event without having caused the emissions in the past.

In fact, the conference hardly discussed to accelerate reductions despite desperate warnings from low sea level and other threatened countries and only agreed in principle on a new fund without specifying any details.

The 2022 emission gap reports from the UN bodies on climate change warned that the world is set to reach the 1.5ºC level already within the next two decades and that only the most drastic cuts in carbon emissions – 43 % by 2030 relative to the 2019 level - would help prevent an environmental disaster that poses an existential challenge to the planet and mankind.

In a press release after the conference, the Commission summarized that EU had agreed to a COP27 compromise to keep Paris Agreement alive and protect those most vulnerable to climate change. Before the conference started, the Commission organized a technical briefing. Asked by The Brussels about organizing a debriefing after the conference, the chief spokesperson replied that it would consider it.

If this could be seen as ‘greenwashing’, Vice-President Frans Timmermans, in charge of the European Green Deal and Commissioner for Climate Action Policy, was franker and could not hide his disappointment. “If we do not speed up, we are heading towards 2.4°C and that is not acceptable. I am sorry if I spoil the atmosphere for some people but it needs to be said.”

The agreement on a loss and damage fund leaves financial arrangements, beneficiaries and donors to be decided by a so-called transitional committee until the next conference in 2023. Currently, oil-rich countries are reluctant to contribute to the fund and prefer to continue to produce and sell fossil fuels to the rest of the world.

Asked about its position and whether it had any plans for the fund, the Commission replied that the EU had not yet made any concrete proposals. It is not even decided if the Commission will be represented in the transitional committee.

The Saudi minister of foreign affairs visited Brussels on Monday but the Commission declined to confirm whether Saudi-Arabia’s contribution to the fund had been discussed.

A number of things are of particular importance for the EU, the spokesperson explained, such as targeting the most vulnerable countries and expanding the funding base of the fund, including by bringing in the private sector. “For us it’s clear that we want the funding base to be as broad as possible.” It is not decided if the Commission will be represented in the transitional committee.

The annual amount of 100 billion USD was determined in the Paris Agreement but is far from sufficient. Will the Commission push for an increase in the funding and by how much?

“The USD100 billion target is not linked to the loss and damage fund, but is a general target for international climate finance,” the spokesperson replied. “We are pushing for all financial flows to be aligned with the Paris Agreement, because we need to move trillions, not billions, to address the needs.”

In its press release, the Commission highlighted that EU's total GHG emissions have decreased by 30% during 1990 – 2021. The figures can be found in the Commission’s latest annual Climate Action Progress Report which was published in October before COP27.

According to the report, EU domestic GHG emissions rose by 4.8% in 2021, when the economy rebounded after the lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, but remained 4% below 2019 level. The figures refer to net emissions, taking into account carbon capture and storage in the in the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) sector.

The report discusses the emissions in different sectors of the economy, such as energy generation and industrial production that are covered by the Emission Trading System (ETS) where the reduction has been significant since its introduction in 2005. In non-ETS sectors such as agriculture and transport the results are less impressive.

The EU hopes that forestation and other measures in the LULUF sector will off-set the emissions but carbon removals have in fact decreased in recent years because EU’s carbon sinks have shrunk over that period due to higher demand for wood. Still, the report concluded the EU is broadly on track to achieve the EU 55% reduction target by 2030.

The report did not include an analysis of the EU emissions by the member states and if individual countries are on the right trajectory to reach the target.

Will the EU member states have to update their National Determined Contributions (NDCs) to reduce their emissions as the Commission’s press release says might be necessary?

“Our target of at least 55% net emission reductions is aligned with the Paris Agreement and the 1.5C goal. We have announced that we are ready to update our NDC as appropriate to reflect the outcome of the ongoing Fit for 55 negotiations if they result in a de facto higher target.”

Vice-President Timmermans said in his concluding speech at COP27 that the goal of phasing out ‘unabated fossil fuels’ was not reflected in the agreement. Currently the EU has no fixed goal for when specific fuels will be phased out, as the energy mix is a national competence, the spokesperson explained. Many Member States have already phased out coal, or intend to do so in the next decade.

“We hope so, and will encourage them and support them in doing so. The COP27 calls on all countries to update their NDCs in line with the Paris Agreement goals.”

Just at the start of COP27, the Parliament and Council reached a provisional agreement on a revision of the effort sharing regulation (ESR) which regulates the non-ETS sectors and accounts for about 60 % of EU emissions. They agreed to increase the mandatory 2030-target at EU level in these sectors from 30% to 40% compared to 1990-levels.

For each EU member state, specific targets are now set ranging between 10-50%.  "With this deal we take a major step forward in delivering on the EU's climate objectives,” Swedish MEP and rapporteur Jessica Polfjärd (EPP) said. “The new rules for national emission cuts ensure that all member states contribute and that existing loopholes are closed.”

She told The Brussels Times that she believes that the new regulatory framework is the right way to ensure that all of EU contributes to the climate goals. The reductions by sector are not specified and will vary by country.

“We have set a clear framework and it’s now up to the member states to deliver effective climate solutions. The framework defines an ambitious trajectory which determines how much each country must reduce emissions each year.”

Does the Commission believe, after the COP27, that non-EU countries will update their NDCs, and by which date, and commit to reduce GHG emissions by at least 43 % by 2030?

“We hope so, and will encourage them and support them in doing so. The COP27 calls on all countries to update their NDCs in line with the Paris Agreement goals.”

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times

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