Friday, January 21

The split over rising energy prices overshadows the EU’s climate strategy | European Union

European Union leaders have exposed their differences on how to tackle a surge in energy prices, as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán dismissed some of the bloc’s plans to tackle the climate emergency as “utopian fantasy” .

Ahead of the crucial UN climate talks in Glasgow, EU leaders plan to issue a statement saying it is “essential to keep the global warming limit of 1.5 ° C within reach” and calling on all countries ” to present and implement ambitious national goals and policies, ”according to a leaked draft of the summit communiqué.

Separately, the leaders of three small EU member states, Belgium, Denmark and Estonia, urged the world’s 20 largest economies, which will meet in Rome at the end of the month, to increase their emission reduction plans and pay your share of the $ 100 billion pledged. an annual climate fund for the poorest countries.

“Our message is very clear that we need the G20 to step up and increase its ambitions before meeting in Glasgow,” said Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, describing the main points of an open letter from the trio to the G20. . Referring to the world’s leading authority on climate science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, he said: “With the new IPCC report, it is very clear that we are already falling behind and it will be more difficult [to make changes] than we think. “

However, the consensus on the EU’s international climate diplomacy risks being overshadowed by internal divisions over how to manage rising energy prices.

Arriving at the two-day summit on Thursday, Orbán stepped up his attack on the EU official in charge of the bloc’s green transition, Frans Timmermans.

“What Timmermans and others propose will kill Europe’s middle class: raise prices, have new regulations, skyrocket prices, destroy the middle class everywhere in Europe, not just in the East, but also in the west, “he said. said.

“The utopian fantasy kills us, that is also the problem with energy prices,” he added, citing controversial proposals by the European Commission to curb emissions from transport and housing.

The commission wants to reduce emissions in transportation and buildings with a cap-and-trade scheme, an idea many climate change activists oppose because they fear it will put too many costs on poorer consumers.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who attended her 107th EU summit for 16 continuous years in power, rejected Orbán’s criticism, saying that energy prices were a separate discussion from the broader issues of climate change.

On the eve of the summit, Poland asked the EU to consider reviewing or postponing any aspect of the green deal that may have “a negative impact on the price of energy”, including plans to increase taxes on fossil fuels and a proposal reform of the block’s emissions trading scheme, which puts a price on industrial pollution.

The green deal, presented by the EU executive in July, is a landmark set of legal proposals to meet the bloc’s goal of reducing emissions by 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. It includes plans to increase the renewable electricity, phase out gasoline and diesel cars, and promote drastic improvement in energy efficiency in buildings.

The laws must be passed by a weighted majority of the 27 EU member states, although the law on energy taxes will need unanimous agreement.

In recent weeks, Orbán has launched repeated attacks on the commission, blaming “those good bureaucrats” in Brussels for the global rise in energy prices, a tale that is at odds with all independent analyzes.

Pascal Canfin, a French MEP who heads the European parliament’s environment committee, told The Guardian that he was not concerned that these views would spread to other member states. “If we must wait for Orbán to implement the green deal, we will have a 4C world. It doesn’t really change the line. When you look at the key countries that support the green deal, none of them have this line due to the increase in the price of gas. “

Wholesale gas prices in Europe have risen 250% since the beginning of the year as growing Asian gas demand has collided with depletion of stocks across the continent. At the same time, carbon prices have more than doubled since January to around € 60 a tonne.

The price of carbon, governed by the EU’s emissions trading system, is one of Europe’s key policies to curb greenhouse gases from industry. EU officials have said that rising gas prices have had a nine times greater effect on electricity costs than rising carbon prices. This analysis is supported by Ember, a group of experts promoting the transition from coal.

“The rise in the price of gas has very little to do with the price of carbon, the ETS,” said Canfin, an ally of French President Emmanuel Macron. “Those who are pushing that argument are simply opportunistically using the gas crisis and trying to use it to counter climate policies. But in reality it is the exact opposite: if there is an increase in the price of gas, it is an additional reason to give up gas and be less dependent on gas. And the only way to be less reliant on gas is to opt for more renewable energy. “

The showdown with Hungary and Poland is not unusual, as both countries initially opposed the EU’s legally binding target of zero net emissions by 2050, but eventually relented.

Peter Vis, a former senior commission official, said that all EU member states had now committed to legally binding targets. “So it’s a question of how to meet those ambitious goals. If member states do not want a part of Fit for 55 [climate] package, another part will have to be reinforced. “

Lower ambition in reducing industrial emissions through the EU ETS could mean calling for greater greenhouse gas reductions in housing and transport, he suggested. “Will member states like it better?” he said. “There are no ‘easy’ solutions anymore. It may take a while for this to sink in. “

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