Not the climate hero that the EU and the world needs to win the battle against climate change
Amidst huge public controversy, this week’s European Parliamentary hearing of Miguel Arias Cañete allowed the public to also get a glimpse of Mr. Cañete’s vision for climate change action and energy. Although he provided reasonable and professional answers, his political track record and lack of innovative ideas do not seem to make Juncker’s choice a promising one.
Miguel Arias Cañete, the Spanish nominee for the Climate Change Action and Energy Commissioner, was surely nervous when he arrived at the European Parliament hearing on Wednesday night. Public opinion is not on his side: in less than 48 hours Avaaz had collected over 400,000 signatures against his appointment. There are concerns that merging of the climate and energy portfolios could be disastrous for the climate agenda if the wrong person ends up with the job. And Cañete’s credentials do not seem to fit the bill. His ties with the oil industry are numerous and his political track record as Spain’s ex-Minister is not particularly comforting. Unsurprisingly, the Hearing focused mainly on Cañete’s track record and potential conflict of interest. The designated Commissioner gave the same elusive answers over and over again: “I sold my shares in full transparency”, “My direct family is not involved in any oil business”, “There is no legal requirement to declare the activities of my brother in law”, “It was not my decision to approve fracking”, “The Treaty allows Member States to choose their respective energy sources”.
Fortunately, some MEPs formulated questions that allowed the public to get a glimpse on Cañete’s vision too. Here are my two major “take-aways”:
EU leadership in global climate change action
Energy security and climate change action are the two sides of the same coin and cannot be held hostage by political party divisions. The merging of the two portfolios is an opportunity for coherence, synergy and efficiency. Climate change needs a leader and the European Union is that leader. The EU needs to speak with one voice and transform climate change evidence, into ambitious policy orientations and objectives with a long-term view.
The objective in the Paris 2015 negotiations will be to ensure that all countries assume ambitious climate change objectives in a fair playing field. The EU can only be a global leader if it comes with ambitious emission targets for 2030 (these will be agreed on in October, before he potentially takes his seat). Climate diplomacy will be pursued in different fora (at the G7, G20 and the World Economic Forum) and also bilaterally - particularly with the US, China, India and Less Developed Countries (LDCs) and small islands states. The hope is that all parties make ambitious commitments and buy into a legally binding compromise.
One question was raised on the impact of the EU on deforestation, biodiversity loss, food insecurity and migration and what strategies the candidate had to address these challenges. Cañete answered that the EU needs to deliver on its commitment to mobilise 100bn before 2020 under the UNFCCC and support technical development. With regards to deforestation and biofuels, Mr. Cañete recognised that views on biomass were changing - that’s good news. He would also work on the Indirect Land Use Change Directive (ILUC); but he did not clarify how (or whether) EU legislation would change.
In short, the EU should be a global leader in climate change, but Cañete had no new ideas on how to make EU climate diplomacy more effective.
Energy Security and Green Growth
EU energy security will only be achieved if the EU diversifies its sources of supply, develops autonomous and cheaper sources of energies and renewables, improves energy efficiency with clear and binding objectives and unites in its purchasing power. A first key priority is to support a pan-European super smart energy system and cross-border solidarity, with a real internal energy market. The EU needs to make progress in the North Sea, Southern and Baltic corridors. For this, additional funding will be needed: it will be important to make a better use of structural funds, collaborate with the European Investment Bank (through project bonds) and make financial revisions. With regard to fracking, Cañete said that he would propose an EU legislation based on an extensive analysis of the economic and social impact of fracking, and “best practices”.
A second key priority is to ensure EU leadership in renewables. This requires setting up a European system to support renewables in line with internal market regulations; investing in R&D for non-mature renewables technologies such as Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) to support transition in coal-dependent countries, such as Poland. A third key priority will be to improve EU energy efficiency; harnessing the potential of eco-design domestic appliances, transport, building and heating sectors, and ensuring widespread access to smart grids and intelligent meters. The Commissioner-designate said that energy poverty was “very important” but failed to provide any strong idea on how he would address the problem. Finally, EU green growth is a great opportunity for EU industry in creating employment. With regard to industry’s legitimate concerns on carbon leakage, Cañete reiterated his commitment to strengthening the Emissions Trading System (ETS) and making it the most performing carbon market in the world. If supported by the Parliament, he would work with the Council to move towards a carbon market stability reserve. In the long run, what we need is “a global carbon market”, he said.
At the time of writing, the decision on Cañete had been postponed until Tuesday. Some legal issues need to be cleared before some groups, including the S&D, can take a decision. In case there is a second round of questions for Cañete (or a new candidate for that matter) MEPs should assess how the Commissioner- designate intends to strengthen EU external climate action in the run-up to 2015. I propose the following questions:
- How will the Commissioner- designate strengthen EU climate diplomacy to foster global collective action against climate change, build alliances and ensure buy-in for an ambitious legally binding framework in the run-up to 2015?
- What will be the role of the Climate Action and Energy Commissioner in the run-up to 2015 UNFCCC negotiations, and what is the split of responsibilities with the Vice President on Energy Union with regard to climate negotiations?
- How will he support the High Representative to ensure that climate change concerns (and sustainable development) are mainstreamed throughout EU foreign policy?
- What can the EU do to ensure that EU climate financing to developing countries’ mitigation and adaptation efforts yields better results and effectively supports EU partner countries’ transition to a low-carbon economy?
Mr Arias Cañete’s political track record should not be forgotten in the time of a hearing. Public opinion concerns are well grounded and should not be dismissed: if the EU wants to lead the global fight against climate change it will need a credible political leader, with strong ideas on how to foster global collective action against climate change.
The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of ECDPM