Published: Tue, 10 July 2018
Today I opened the European Commission’s high-level conference alongside Climate Action and Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete, Austrian Secretary-General at the Federal Ministry for Sustainability and Tourism, Josef Plank, and Vazil Hudak, Vice-President of the European Investment Bank. Below is the speech I delivered this morning:
First of all allow me to say that it is a great pleasure to be given the opportunity to open the discussions this morning on this extremely important topic. At a time when we are nearing the completion of our Climate and Energy Framework for 2030, I think it is important to already look to where we go from there. 2030 is not that far away, and while I am confident great strides will be made by then in terms of moving to a low-carbon system, it is vital that we think long term imagine what the EU economy will look like in 2050 and beyond.
From the outset I think it is important to remind ourselves that we have an obligation to meet our commitments under the Paris Agreement and ensure that the required emissions cuts are made – this is not something that is optional; sustained and consistent action on Climate Change is a must – the only debate to be had is to consider how we do it. In the past few weeks, Parliament and Council reached agreements on three key elements of the Clean Energy Package – the Renewable Energy Directive, the Energy Efficiency Directive, and the Governance Regulation. The result of each was perhaps more ambitious than we might have predicted a year ago, which is great to see. One of my proudest days in politics to date came in January this year when Parliament, and indeed my own Group the EPP, resoundingly called for an ambitious Renewable Energy Target of 35%. That we ended up on 32% is a huge success for Parliament, and the fact that the Member States were able to accept a target of this level is proof that the Climate challenge is now at last being given the utmost importance and priority by policy makers.
In looking ahead to 2030 and then to 2050, forward planning and innovative thinking will be essential, but I think one of the most crucially important aspects that needs to continue to change is simply the way we think about Climate Action. We must stop seeing the need to decrease emissions as a burden and instead look to the opportunities and benefits it will bring. Achieving reductions is difficult of course, and it can be politically sensitive and often divisive. Debates on this subject in my own country can often be polarized and heated and often relate to the carbon footprint of carbon-intensive sectors like agriculture, for example.
In Ireland we find ourselves seeking to strike the right balance between emissions reductions in such a key economic sector and the need to preserve the employment and growth that the sector generates. This sort of debate will be familiar to everyone as it is a debate that happens all over Europe in different forms – Germany has concerns about emission-reduction obligations being put on heavy industry, in Poland the same is true for the switch away from coal; each Member State has it’s reason why Climate Action poses a difficulty, and these are valid discussions and concerns. However, it is clear that solutions are needed to ensure a just transition towards a low-carbon economy in all sectors – it presents a challenge, but also a huge opportunity, and that is how it must be seen.
It is becoming clearer and clearer every year that while traditional sectors come under pressure to contribute to the fight against climate change, those sectors that are providing the solutions are bringing significant economic benefits. IRENA recently reported that the renewable energy industry created more than 500,000 new hobs globally in 2017 – up 5.3% from 2016 – this is huge progress. In the EU, the renewables sector accounts for around 1.27 million jobs, and I am confident this will multiply in the coming years as we see the positive effects of our ambitious policies.
To sustain the level of growth in these sectors, a long-term outlook will be important and therefore I strongly welcome the Commission’s initiative to take the steps towards a decarbonisation strategy to 2050, as we in Parliament have often called for. Having been part of the recent negotiations on the Renewable Energy Directive, and having discussed with all stakeholders at length to ensure that we put in place a piece of legislation that was fit for purpose, and that would ensure that investments were made, one aspect was clearly the most important – certainty.
It is absolutely crucial that we can give certainty to the investors that are going to drive this transition. From a policymaking perspective, we can set targets and put in place all the required frameworks we want, but without certainty and visibility, we cannot be sure that these investments will be made. Thankfully, I think the results achieved in the clean energy package thus far have given a clear signal that the EU wants to be the world leader in renewable energy, and this will certainly boost the market.
With a 32% target for Renewables, combined with a 32.5% target for energy efficiency, we are making it clear that decarbonisation is an utmost priority. In the Renewable Energy Directive alone, there are a number of successes that will be extremely positive: no retroactivity in terms of support granted, long term visibility for renewable energy tenders, streamlined administrative processes and the introduction of single administrative contact points to assist project promoters in bringing their projects to fruition. These are all extremely positive developments. Additionally, there is a clear identification of the need to further deploy renewables in Heating and Cooling and in Transport – two sectors that certainly will need an additional push. While the sectorial ambition could have been even stronger for both heating and transport, I believe this to be a positive first step, and will encourage member states to take actions on both. This will have the added benefit of making it far easier for Member States to meet their effort-sharing targets that have been set for 2030.
This sort of clear direction is also needed for the longer term. 2030 will come around quite quickly, and in today’s uncertain political climate, it will be important that investors are given assurances that policy direction and support towards decarbonisation will continue, to 2030, 2040, 2050 and beyond. We need to have a vision of what the low-carbon system of 2050 will look like; what are the technological developments needed to ensure we get there? What are the policies that will be needed until then to make sure long-term investments are made?
Finally, I believe it is important that everyone is given an opportunity to have their say in all of this. I have found in recent years that there is often a lack of a real policy discussion on this issue with the ordinary citizens and this certainly doesn’t help matters when governments need to find ways of raising the money needed to put these important policies in place. This needs to change – we need to work to ensure citizens are informed about the importance and the benefits of the policies we put in place to reduce harmful emissions.
Decarbonisation must be inclusive; all citizens must be on board and must contribute. And that means we must consider those who are set to be most impacted by these policy decision – be it our farmers, our factory workers, or whoever else. These people must be identified and included; we must allow them, and all citizens, to have their say and be involved in the discussion. We cannot afford to leave people behind in the fight against climate change, as without continued public support for action, we will be in big trouble. This will be a collective effort, but I am certain that EU citizens want us to lead the way in the fight against climate change, I am certain that our citizens want to see us take the lead cutting emissions and developing the next generation of technologies that will make our systems cleaner, more efficient and future proof. Everyone is part of the problem and also part of the solution.
I am delighted to see the Commission kick-off this whole process with the public consultation, and indeed this week’s high level event where experts will give their take on what needs to be part of the strategy. Moving to a low-carbon economy in a way that is cost-effective for our citizens, which is fair and just for those who are employed in those carbon-intensive sectors, and which maintains EU competitiveness is the ultimate goal. Work must be done to ensure we get there. I look forward to the months ahead when our 2050 strategy takes shape and we gather the inputs of everyone, including the expert inputs we will hear from today and tomorrow.
The road towards a low-carbon EU in 2050 starts here – I look forward to the discussions ahead.