EU Commissioner Cañete: “The call of Pope Francis to combat climate change could not be more timely”


The Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, Mr. Miguel Arias Cañete, talks about challenges facing the EU as regards these matters and the contribution for the COP21 in Paris next December.

There is still a large section of public opinion which remains sceptical about climate change.  Why should Europe, a region still suffering from a deep crisis – unemployment, public deficit – be worried about climate change? Is climate change a real threat to our future?

Climate change is not only a serious threat to Europe but is also an existential danger to the whole of humanity. For many years scientific evidence has proved its existence beyond all doubt, and that we are coming increasingly closer to a point of no return. The need for action is imminent.

Moreover, we must not fall into the mistake of setting the need for growth and employment against the commitment to fight against climate change. European economies do not need to continue emitting CO2 to keep growing. Between 1990 and 2013 the total greenhouse gas emissions fell by 19% in the EU while the GDP grew by 45%. In the same manner, fighting against climate change can reduce unemployment and promote recovery. The renewable energy sector, for example, represents an important source of employment for the EU and employs around one million people. Similarly, in setting targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the EU has encouraged energy efficiency and technological innovation, increasing the competitiveness of European companies. Now the fight against climate change goes hand in hand with economic progress.

The EU Emissions Trading System (EU-ETS) has not had the expected impact. Does the EU continue to believe that it is an appropriate instrument for controlling greenhouse gas emissions? What is missing from this mechanism and what does the EU propose looking towards COP21? Are other regulatory instruments beyond the Emissions Trading System being considered?

The EU Emissions Trading System is one of the most efficient instruments which we have to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, but it certainly is not working as it should in recent years. The economic crisis created an excess of emission rights and this has led to an unbalanced situation. This has to be resolved as soon as possible. The Commission therefore proposed a Market Stability Reserve to rebalance the situation, and now the European Parliament and the Member States are in the final stages of these negotiations.

In addition, we are preparing a proposal for a structural reform of the EU-ETS for the period 2020-2030. All these initiatives will allow us to be in a better position to meet the objectives that we have set, and they provide a very good example for other countries ahead of COP21.

In view of the forthcoming Conference of Paris (COP21), what do you think are the issues on which it is more likely we can see an agreement? Are there any topics in the negotiations that can make us optimistic? Equally, which topics are a real threat for COP21? Public opinion experienced great frustration with the Copenhagen Conference; are there any issues which might prevent the Paris Conference having a positive outcome?

Paris will be a key moment to define global targets. The European Union has been very ambitious in its goals, and we will sit down for the discussions well prepared as an example to the rest of the world. The other countries should try to be as ambitious as we are and take their share of responsibility for a problem that affects all of us, and that certainly is the most important challenge we face in the twenty-first century.

The G7 countries must remain a benchmark of commitment in the fight against climate change, but now is the time for the new emerging powers to also join in the commitment. Members of the G20 such as China, that already play a key role in the global economy, should also reflect on their relevance in the field of climate change, and Paris will be the right time to do so. In addition, the least-developed countries, which find themselves under less favourable circumstances, should know that the EU is ready to support them so that they can also join the agreement. Paris has to be a success and the EU is already doing its best to make it happen.

One of the most sensitive issues when discussing climate change is always the financial commitment to support those countries that are already suffering from its impacts; and so to transfer technology in order to adapt to the new circumstances. Looking to COP21 what is the expected size of these financial commitments and what provisions will the EU be making?

The European Union is well known for supporting its international initiatives with a significant amount of funding, and this is especially true when we talk about climate change. The EU is the leading global donor both of official development aid and of funding to combat climate change. Between 2007 and 2013, the European Commission provided nearly 4,5 billion euros to this concept and the EU as a whole contributed 9,5 billion in just one year. In addition, the European Investment Bank devotes 25% of its funding in the form of loans to projects related to the fight against climate change, being the primary global lender in this field. Between 2008 and 2012, the European Investment Bank invested nearly 80 billion euros in projects of mitigation and adaptation in Europe as well as in emerging and developing countries. If to this we add all the other instruments and initiatives exclusively dedicated to the fight against climate change, I believe the EU is doing everything in its power to support the global effort and it will continue to fulfil its commitments in the future.

In addition to financial issues, the EU has always tried to retain the ambitious attitudes shown in previous COPs, especially when compared with other countries. What do you think can be the major contribution of the EU to these negotiations?

There are indeed many possibilities for cooperation outside that of financial assistance. So that many more countries can join in the Paris commitments the EU also gives its support in many other ways. On the one hand, we are developing cooperation initiatives to share experiences on the implementation of policies and good practices both in multilateral forums and bilaterally. Experts from specialized organizations, the private sector, academia and governments can share their knowledge and learn from different experiences. On the other hand, we are also encouraging the participation of third-countries in our research and innovation programme Horizon 2020, and also supporting financially the participation of the least-developed countries in this programme. Moreover, the European Commission, in close collaboration with the External Action Service, is actively conducting climate diplomacy in the months leading up to the Paris Conference, encouraging our international partners to be as ambitious as we are and to join the future agreement.

For many people the issue of climate change is part of the larger phenomenon of ecological transition. Basically it is about making our societies more just and sustainable. For this, our policy measures would not be enough, we need cultural and social change. Do you think that the Churches can play a role? Do you think that the leadership of Pope Francis, who has already expressed his concerns about the impacts of climate change and intends to make it even more apparent in his next encyclical, can provide moral reinforcement for the next COP21?

To deal with climate change we need a structural transformation that cannot come solely from within the political arena. The ecological transition must necessarily have social support. It is for this reason that the role of groups and social movements, including the churches, is fundamental. In recent years the Holy See has been one of the leading proponents of this transition, and Pope Benedict himself began to outline what it should be in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate. Now, just a few months before the Paris Conference, the call of Pope Francis to combat climate change could not be more timely. I am convinced that his leadership will have an important social impact in putting pressure on states to be ambitious and committed in this global effort.

Paula Sendin