Greetings and welcome to EURACTIV’s Green Brief. Below you’ll find the latest roundup of news covering energy & environment from across Europe. You can subscribe to the weekly newsletter here.
Good morning and welcome to our COP26 special edition of The Green Brief. We’re watching rainy Glasgow from rainy Brussels and are determined to bring you all the EU news from the bonny banks of the Clyde.
Those who’ve attended COP meetings before will know the format only too well – mega-conferences are messy and confusing. So as Glasgow says Fàilte gu Alba (welcome to Scotland) to the world, we’ve decided to get straight to the point with a summary of what to expect from the EU perspective.
Enjoy! – Frédéric Simon and Kira Taylor
Everything to win, everything to lose. COP26 is a key summit for the climate. It could mark a dramatic turnaround in global ambition to tackle climate change or be another kick of the can down the road.
Currently, commitments by countries are not enough to meet global climate targets. The world is on track to reach 2.7°C warming under current pledges, according to the UN Emissions Gap Report. And that’s assuming all pledges are all delivered, which is not a guarantee.
Europe’s record. Europe is coming into the summit with a mixed record. On climate goals, it looks relatively good. It’s the only continent in the world with a pledge to meet net-zero emissions by 2050 enshrined into law and backed by a 2030 target – to reduce emissions by at least 55% compared to 1990 levels. (For the breakdown of how that net target works, check out our video here). On top of that, it also has a concrete legislative plan to achieve its climate goals – the so-called ‘Fit for 55’ package tabled in July.
However, the EU is not faultless. According to calculations, meeting the 1.5°C pledge would require a 65% cut in emissions by 2030. And getting ‘Fit for 55’ over the line will be a long process, not expected to finish until the end of 2023.
A summit for the elite? COP26 itself is not without its scandals. For starters, COVID has made the summit extremely difficult to organise, having already delayed it once in 2020. Delegates are having to test every day – if they even made it to Glasgow. A lack of vaccines to the Global South, combined with chaotic planning from the UK government has led to criticism about access for attendees from developing countries.
That comes on top of failures by developed countries to meet promised climate finance. So far, this has been missed by around $20 billion. The gap is closing but we’re not quite there yet. According to a recent report, rich nations will only meet their pledge in 2023, but European Commission President von der Leyen has said “we should look at providing the $100 billion already next year”.
Europe’s goals for Glasgow. COP26 must overcome these barriers to achieve three main objectives, which were laid out by von der Leyen (full story here).
- Raising the ambition of climate pledges in order to limit global warming to well below 2°C and, ideally, 1.5°C and prevent drastic climate change.
- Increasing climate finance from Europe and other developed countries to meet the $100 billion of funding for climate mitigation and adaptation promised to developing countries.
- Agreeing the rules around international carbon markets (Article 6) to complete the Paris Rulebook.
To support these objectives, the EU is launching and supporting a series of initiatives at COP26:
The Global Methane Pledge, driven by the EU and US President Joe Biden. The pledge lays out new regulatory measures to tackle global emissions of methane, the second most damaging greenhouse gas. The goal is to cut these emissions by 30% by the end of the decade, based on 2020 levels. Over 100 countries, representing 70% of the global economy and nearly half of methane emissions created by human activity, have signed the pledge, according to the European Commission, but crucially, China is missing. Read more here.
A financial contribution of €1 billion to the Global Forest pledge, which includes €250 million for the Congo Basin. Read more here.
An initiative on innovation with US billionaire Bill Gates called the “Breakthrough Energy catalyst”. According to von der Leyen, the goal is to scale up markets for technologies such as green hydrogen, sustainable aviation fuels, carbon capture and storage, and energy storage technologies. This was launched yesterday, with von der Leyen announcing: “The climate challenge requires us to invest in high-risk innovations and to eliminate the ‘green premium’ involved in commercialising new technologies”.
A just energy transition partnership with South Africa. Led by the US, the UK, Germany and France, and supported by the EU, this partnership aims to help South Africa get out of coal earlier and speed up the deployment of renewables. It was also launched yesterday with von der Leyen calling it an “excellent showcase” of countries working together to support the transition to clean energy. “This partnership, I hope, will be a blueprint for similar partnerships with other countries,” she said.
Worth the wait? India’s highly anticipated target materialises. One of the countries the world was waiting on for its new and improved climate ambition (known as a nationally determined contribution or NDC in COP26 jargon) was India. Finally, on Monday we got the answer, but it falls short of the ambition many would have wanted. India’s prime minister announced his country would reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2070 – two decades after what scientists say is the decade needed to avert catastrophic climate impacts. Read more.
Spot the difference. China also announced its new NDC, which includes more ambition than its previous 2016 pledge, if only marginally. Changes include a goal of reaching over 1,200 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2030 – a target that was non-existent before. China also put forward its plan to reach net zero emissions by 2060, but the EU and the US will be disappointed to see their attempt to push China to be more ambitious has not been successful. The new pledge is helpfully summed up here on Twitter.
Seeing the money for the trees. World leaders issued a multibillion-dollar pledge to end deforestation by 2030 on Tuesday. According to COP’s British hosts, the pledge is backed by almost $20 billion of public and private funding and is endorsed by over 100 leaders, representing 85% of the world’s forests.
“Protecting forests, sustainably managing them and caring for the land is our shared priority. Not only because these ecosystems are essential for the stability of our climate, but also because they continue to provide livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people right around the world,” said von der Leyen in her speech on forestry at COP.
Crucially, the pledge includes Brazil and Russia, which have been criticised for their forestry policy. But environmental NGOs have warned that a similar pledge has already been made – to halve deforestation by 2020 – and was missed. However, that pledge did not include Russia and Brazil. Read more here or take a look at EURACTIV’s special report on forestry at COP here.
The long farewell to coal. The top 10 coal-powered countries (those that use coal for their electricity) have now committed to net zero emissions, announced the climate think tank Ember. However, the top two – China and India – are aiming to reach climate neutrality more than a decade later than 2050. It’s progress, but is it quick enough? More here.
This comes as good news after the G20 summit last weekend offered little hope of progress on coal, with leaders merely agreeing to end international coal finance this year, following on from similar commitments by the G7, South Korea, Japan, China, and OECD. China, Russia and India are among the countries resisting a timeline to phase out coal power generation.
A key measure of success at COP will be countries’ resolve to end coal power. In a September speech, the UK’s COP26 president, Alok Sharma, urged leaders to “consign coal power to history”. At the EU level, three countries have already abandoned coal (Austria, Belgium, and Sweden) and many more are planning to do so in the coming years. But there are notable exceptions, including Germany, which plans to exit coal by 2038 and Poland, the EU’s heaviest coal user, which has no formal exit date for coal.
Methane pledge misses the big hitters. Some of the world’s top coal mine methane emitters are absent on the signatories of the Global Methane Pledge. China, Russia, India and Australia are yet to sign up, warned climate think tank Ember.
“The Global Methane Pledge is a game changing moment – it shows that the world is waking up to methane’s staggering climate impact,” said Ember’s global lead, Dave Jones.
“For countries to cut as much methane as possible, they must target all sources. Coal mine methane is fairly quick and cheap to do something about and a massive contributor to global heating. Coal is dirtier than you think – will this methane moment help shine a light on coal’s leaks?” he added. Read the full story here and the full list of signatory countries here.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot? The UK and France have reached a new agreement on a mission to monitor atmospheric carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas most responsible for climate change. The UK Space Agency and the French space agency signed an implementation agreement on Tuesday for the mission, which is due to launch in early 2023 and will be the first European satellite dedicated to measuring atmospheric CO2 from all around the world. The data collected will contribute to global efforts to measure the amount of carbon naturally emitted and the amount produced by human activities, such as energy production. France and the UK don’t have a great historical record of working together, but hey, if this British journalist can work well with her French editor, maybe this collab might work out too.
Completing the Paris Rulebook. At COP26, leaders will also be negotiating and, hopefully, reaching an agreement on international carbon markets. Europe’s main objective is to ensure emissions reductions are not counted twice. This could happen if a reforestation project is carried out by Germany in Brazil – the emissions cuts resulting from this cannot be claimed by the two countries. Achieving this requires the introduction of “a new international mechanism for the certification of carbon offsets” and “avoiding the use of past emissions reductions to undermine current and future ambition,” the Commission said in a statement.
Another issue is what to do with old credits from the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). If all existing CDM credits were transferred into the next round of emissions pledges, it would water down global ambition. A compromise should allow some of those credits to be transferred but not all. Ensuring there are no big losers or winners will be key to success here. Read the latest here.
Alongside this, we’re hoping for an agreement on common timeframes to evaluate progress – every two, five or ten years – and when the review should start – 2025 or 2030. After much debate, the EU agreed on a 5-year cycle but only “from 2031 onwards” and “only in the case all parties would be required to do so” as well – a stance that was adopted due to reluctance from the EU’s eastern member states.
Halloween night horror for COP travellers. Under a giant billboard declaring “no time to delay”, many COP delegates attempting to get to Glasgow ended up stranded in London on Sunday. This was caused by stereotypical British weather creating stereotypical delays on British trains. Rather ironically, this led some to hop in a car and make the 400 mile journey from London to Glasgow.
Coin toss. In a photoshoot just begging to be satirised, leaders of the G20 countries flipped a coin into the Trevi Fountain in Italy at the end of their meeting over the weekend. While the G20 has scrambled to explain that this is an ancient tradition rather than some far-fetched gesture for success at COP26, many saw the image as a final plea for good luck ahead of what promises to be painful negotiations. Indeed, one Twitter commenter went further, photoshopping the image with various climate pledges leaders have given, such as carbon capture and storage technology and carbon offsets. More on the G20 meeting here (spoiler alert: no consensus emerged on a collective commitment on climate change).
Green steel. The EU and the US agreed to end a trade dispute over steel and aluminium on Sunday, opting instead to promote low-carbon steel production. They gave themselves two years to negotiate an arrangement that would promote more sustainable steel and aluminium with low carbon emissions – a deadline notable for the fact that it comes before Europe’s planned carbon border levy, which would cover carbon-intensive steel production, is planned to come into force. Read more.
Pulling their weight? Climate finance remains one of the storm clouds overshadowing COP26. But ahead of COP, Europe wanted to make it clear it’s doing its part. Just days before the summit launched, the European Council announced that, together, the EU and its member states provided €23.39 billion to support developing countries reduce their emissions and adapt to climate change. Close to half of this was grants, according to data compiled by the European Commission. The European Council added that Europe is determined to continue to scale up its international climate finance towards a collective goal of $100 per year to 2025. It’s yet to be seen whether the world’s richest countries can make that promise a reality.
Think of the children! One of the key messages from European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at COP26 was that it must be a success for the sake of our children. She called for “real action” in this decade and said countries must speed up the race to net zero emissions, a call that looks relatively weak against the backdrop of China and India’s sluggish approach to decarbonisation. “This is our opportunity to write history. More than that, it is our duty,” she told delegates in Glasgow. The full speech is available here.
Giving a f*** about the planet. And, speaking of youth, Greta Thunberg pulled neither her punches nor her language at a climate protest in Glasgow. Continuing her criticism of vague climate pledges with little in the way of short term action, she announced, “No more blah, blah, blah. No more whatever the f*** they are doing inside there.”
Thunberg also joined with Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate to call on global media to properly report the climate crisis and the systematic issues behind it. The two told global media “if you want to truly cover the climate crisis, you must also report on the fundamental issues of time, holistic thinking and justice”.
Asleep on the job? Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was criticised after a picture circulated suggesting he was napping during speeches at COP26. The photo was gold dust for the opposition in the UK, with Shadow Justice Secretary tweeting, “Time to wake up Boris Johnson the world is burning.”
Maybe he was dreaming of a greener world or, as the UK government pointed out, maybe it was just one snapshot from the night, with many others showing him wide awake, if a little grumpy.
During his speech, Johnson also compared the fight against climate change to a Bond film, stating that he “generally comes to the climax of his highly lucrative films strapped to a doomsday device, desperately trying to work out which coloured wire to pull to turn it off while a red digital clock ticks down remorselessly to a detonation that will end human life as we know it – and we are in roughly the same position”.
He called on the world to “get real on coal, cars, cash and trees”, highlighting the need to reverse deforestation and phase out coal and fossil-powered cars.
- Major methane deal at climate summit — without China
- ‘Put a price on carbon, nature cannot pay,’ EU’s von der Leyen tells COP26
- Russia adopts long-term climate strategy, rejects US criticism
- COP26 leaders vow new drive to save forests
- Modi says India targets net-zero emissions by 2070
- G20 leaders wrangle over climate ahead of COP26 summit
- Global climate talks open to cries of betrayal, blame
- EU and US slash tariffs, start cooperating on ‘green steel’
- Europe lays out battle plan for COP26 climate summit
DUBLIN. Ireland joins Global Methane Pledge signatories. Ireland will join the nearly 90 countries that have signed up to a US-EU-led initiative to cut methane emissions by 30% of 2020 levels by 2030. Read more.
WARSAW. Withholding EU funds through ‘blackmail’ could endanger Poland’s energy transformation, warned Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on the sidelines of the COP26 summit in Glasgow. Read more.
PARIS. COP26: Macron calls on biggest emitters to raise climate ambitions. French President Emmanuel Macron called on the world’s biggest emitters to catch up and “raise” their climate ambitions during his opening speech at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. Read more.
DUBLIN. Irish Taoiseach: ‘Imperative’ world responds to climate change. It is “imperative” that the world responds to climate change, Ireland’s Taoiseach Micheál Martin told reporters at the COP26 summit in Glasgow. He added that carrying on with current action at a national or global level would not be economically sustainable due to the impact of weather events caused by climate change. Read more.
MADRID. Spain commits to increasing its contribution to UN Green Climate Fund. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Monday pledged to increase the Spanish contribution to the UN Green Climate Fund by 50% to €1.35 billion per year as of 2025, EURACTIV’s partner EFE reported. Read more.
LJUBLJANA. Janša urges realistic path to implement climate goals. Prime Minister Janez Janša highlighted the need to create a realistic path to implement Paris agreement goals, including with the help of nuclear energy, as he addressed the World Leaders Summit at the COP26 climate conference. Read more.
ROME. G20 Rome summit falls short of setting major climate goals ahead of COP26. Although the Italian government – which currently holds the G20 presidency – was hoping to convince fellow G20 leaders to commit to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, the final declaration presented at the end of the summit only featured a commitment to achieving global net-zero greenhouse gas emissions was postponed to “by or around mid-century”. Read more.
Here are the highlights from the high-level meetings at COP26. There will be many more sideline events, but these are the big hitters when it comes to negotiations between countries. (For our usual roundup of upcoming legislation and meetings on EU energy and environment news, check out last week’s newsletter).
You can watch these events webcast here.
WEDNESDAY 3 NOVEMBER: Finance. Leaders will discuss the mobilisation of public and private finance for mitigation and adaptation, a key element for Global South countries, who are facing the biggest impacts of climate change.
THURSDAY 4 NOVEMBER: Energy. Leaders will look at all things energy, particularly the global transition to clean energy. This is key as many countries are still reliant on fossil fuels, like coal.
FRIDAY 5 NOVEMBER: Youth and public empowerment. Since Greta Thunberg, the youth have been an essential driver of climate ambition. Meanwhile, it is essential to get the public on board. Leaders will discuss how to elevate young people’s voices and the critical role of the general public and education on climate change.
FRIDAY 5 NOVEMBER: Climate protest at Kelvingrove Park.
SATURDAY 6 NOVEMBER: Nature. On the final day of the first week, the focus will be on the importance of nature and sustainable land use in tackling climate change.
SATURDAY 6 NOVEMBER: Climate march.
MONDAY 8 NOVEMBER: Adaptation, loss and damage. Climate change impacts are being felt now, particularly in the Global South. The first day of the second week will look at the solutions that are needed to adapt to climate change and address the loss caused by things like extreme weather.
TUESDAY 9 NOVEMBER: Gender & Science and innovation. Women are affected by climate change more than men. Tuesday’s programme looks at the participation of women and girls in climate action. It will also look at what innovations can be used and sped up to tackle climate change.
WEDNESDAY 10 NOVEMBER: Transport. Leaders will look at what is needed to drive the transition to zero emission transport.
THURSDAY 11 NOVEMBER: Cities, regions and built environment. Cities and buildings are major polluters. Leaders will look at what is needed to green cities.
FRIDAY 12 NOVEMBER: Closure of negotiations. We hope by this point leaders will have reached a conclusion on key points for negotiations and made all of those air miles to get to COP26 worthwhile.
It’s not just about COP26. Here’s a quick round up of everything else going on in energy and environment policy right now.
From Europe’s capitals:
BRATISLAVA | BUDAPEST. Hungary to buy Slovak electricity giant stake from Czech billionaire. Czech billionaire Daniel Křetínský plans to sell his minority stake in the second biggest Slovak electricity producer to Hungary’s biggest electricity provider, MVM, Telex reported. Read more.
BUCHAREST. US and Romania to build nuclear power facility. The United States and Romania on Tuesday (2 November) announced plans to build a “first-of-a-kind” small modular reactor (SMR) plant in Romania. Deployment of SMR technology will be an essential contributor to a decarbonised power sector and net-zero future, the White House said. Read more.
SARAJEVO. BiH reaches agreement to acquire gas from Serbia’s natural gas provider. Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) has reached an agreement to acquire gas from Serbia’s natural gas provider so that the BiH Federation, a Croat and Bosniak entity, will not be left without supply until the part of the pipeline that broke down in Bulgaria is fixed. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
PRAGUE. Experts dampen hopes of Central Europe’s nuclear future. As Czechia looks to decarbonise its coal-based economy, it sees nuclear energy as the backbone of its future energy mix. The Czech government plans to build a new nuclear power plant unit that is expected to be operational in 2036. Still, experts warn of delays and high costs, already observed in Slovakia or Hungary. Read more.
BELGRADE. Serbia imports natural gas from Hungary after Bulgarian pipeline rupture. After a natural gas pipeline rupture in Bulgaria cut off the gas supply to some parts of Serbia, Serbia imported five million cubic metres of natural gas from Hungary, the Serbian Broadcasting Corporation reported on Monday. Read more.
SARAJEVO | BELGRADE. Federation almost without gas. Federation BiH entity (Bosniak and Croat one), which takes approximately a half of the country’s territory, was close to running out of gas after a malfunction on the gas transport route in Bulgaria, which meant that the delivery to BiH was interrupted. Serbia immediately managed to buy the necessary energy from Hungary. Read more.
BRATISLAVA. Caputova: Slovak plans and strategies do not reflect European climate targets. Slovakia needs to step up its efforts to combat climate change as its current plans and strategies do not reflect European climate targets, President Zuzana Čaputová said before travelling to the climate summit in Glasgow. Read more.
- LEAKED: Paper on gas and nuclear’s inclusion in EU green finance rules
- Ukraine struggles to make its voice heard in Nord Stream 2 certification
- Gas companies in Europe made €4 billion from energy crunch: report
- Future German Chancellor committed to gas, Greens fall in line
- EU countries ramp up pressure to grant nuclear a ‘green’ investment label
- Mining industry warns against Europe’s drive for raw material ‘autonomy’
- EU denounces Russia’s ‘weaponisation of gas supply’ to Moldova
- Green campaigners condemn pushback against EU forest strategy
- EU climate and infrastructure agency eyes end of fossil fuel projects
- EU gives Moldova €60 million euros over Russia gas row
- ‘Always on’: The promise of new geothermal technologies
9 NOVEMBER. Working towards a stronger circular economy – how much regulation is needed? Come along to discuss the EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan and whether its new initiatives, such as the digital product passport, will achieve the transparency for products that policymakers are looking for. Speakers include William Neale, advisor for circular economy at the European Commission, Joan Marc Simon, executive director of Zero Waste Europe, Emma Watkins, senior policy analyst for low carbon and circular economy at IEEP and Karl Haeusgen, president of VDMA. Programme and registration here. (Supported by VDMA)
15 NOVEMBER. The role of electrolytic hydrogen in the clean energy transition. Join this EURACTIV Virtual Conference to discuss what role low carbon electrolytic hydrogen can play in achieving net zero emissions in the EU by 2050. There are still many open questions about definitions, which form of hydrogen will be supported and where research and development will be focused. Confirmed panelists include Christelle Rouillé, the CEO of French startup Hynamics, and Christian Egenhofer from the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS). (Supported by EDF)
8 DECEMBER. Energy poverty: how to reduce inequalities? Join Adela Tesarova, Head of Unit, Consumers, Local Initiatives and Just Transition, DG Energy, European Commission, Masha Smirnova, Campaign Manager European Green Deal, EUROCITIES and more to discuss how addressing energy poverty can help reduce inequalities in the European Union and the role that Member States should play in protecting vulnerable citizens. Programme and registration here. (Supported by PKEE)