Climate Policy Environment 6 April, 2020 11:00 am   

Spurek: coronavirus cannot suspend the EU’s climate policy

In an interview for Sylwia Spurek, MEP and member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, comments on the climate policy in the era of the coronavirus. “We cannot solve this problem by sweeping the old ones under the rug. Some either forget, or still don’t understand that the EU’s climate neutrality is not an option, but a necessity. They don’t want to understand that a climate disaster has an economic dimension as well,” she explains. The CO2 emissions in Europe dropped significantly because of the coronavirus epidemic. Does this development get Europe closer to its climate objectives?

Sylwia Spurek: We need to remember these are temporary changes. The coronavirus will not combat the climate disaster for us… It is the responsibility of the EU administration and the entire Union. If we do not undertake proper measures once the pandemic is over, everything will go back to “normal”. If by “normal” we mean environmental degradation, turning a blind eye to human diseases and economic consequences.

Is it possible to implement the European Green Deal despite the possibility of a recession?

I don’t see any other possibility. In this situation we simply have two – instead of one – challenges. One is the fight to avert the climate disaster and the other one, a new one, is to rebuild the economy after the pandemic. Both goals are strategically important to the EU. Failure to address either of them will have serious social, economic and environmental repercussions. Both goals should be pursued in full synergy, so that the funds spent on increasing economic growth go to those sectors which are of key significance to the European Green Deal and, what is indisputable, which are in line with these goals. We have to remember that the crisis will limit our resources, which is why every Eurocent from the EU budget should be invested in areas that will generate development or savings in the EU and member state budgets. To find our way out of the crisis we will need to implement key reforms in the energy, transport and agriculture sectors. On the one hand we have to start investments; on the other by applying the EU principle “the polluter pays”, we will generate savings related to healthcare costs, and to limiting the impact of global warming, such as droughts, heat waves and floods. As a result public expenses will be lower, and the savings should be spent on increasing the number of programs that support economic growth. If we choose a different direction then on the one hand we will try to combat the recession, but on the other we will make old problems worse, which will devour huge sums of taxpayer money.

Are the coronavirus and the possibility of a recession in Europe good enough arguments to suspend the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS)?

I think this is a bad idea. Of course the path I am talking about is very difficult, but I don’t see any other way. We cannot solve this problem by sweeping the old ones under the rug. We need to remember we are in a state of a climate disaster. Every year we decide not to do anything only makes the crisis worse. Some either forget, or still don’t understand that the EU’s climate neutrality is not an option, but a necessity. They don’t want to understand that a climate disaster has an economic dimension as well. If we decide to suspend the European Green Deal objectives and abandon such tools as the EU ETS, instead of facing the post-coronavirus recession we will be facing a number of crises at the same time. Unfortunately, the implementation of the European Green Deal is taking place at a bad time of a pandemic and an economic crisis. I understand that many sectors are afraid of this big challenge at a time of a recession, but there is no other way. I believe the President of the European Commission, the entire Commission and Frans Timmermans will be fully determined when it comes to this issue. I am happy about the Commission’s latest decision to stick to its 2030 CO2 reduction plan. The European Parliament has to give the EC a green light in this case. The EC has to receive all the necessary tools, including the right to issue strict recommendations to member states whose actions will go against the EU climate targets.

The International Energy Agency stressed that the coronavirus cannot overshadow the main challenge of our times, which is energy transformation. According to the Agency, lowering interest rates by national banks will support the development of large, green energy investments. Do you agree with this opinion?

I hope they are right, but what matters the most to me is that when thinking about the European Green Deal and the climate crisis we need to look at the big picture. This will allow us to notice not only those sectors that require investments, but also the areas that require transformations and changes. I am under the impression that while we managed to, with varies success, implement the “pollutant pays” treaty rule for the energy and transport sectors, we are turning a blind eye in case of agriculture, and to be specific industrial livestock production. And it is responsible for huge pollution and overexploitation of water and earth. There is no way we can rationally explain why transport and energy should be fined for emissions, but not agriculture. And green investments require not only proper financing, but also legal changes that will break barriers for their implementation. We need a green light for these investments.

Interview by Michał Perzyński