Do Europe’s powerful and clean live up to the expectations to lead on climate?

Following the publication of the European Commission’s recommendations on EU countries’ draft energy and climate plans, LIFE PlanUp has analysed the plans of Finland, Sweden, Portugal, Germany and France. While the plans include ambitious goals, they lack concrete policies and measures to deliver on the promises.

On 18 June 2019, the European Commission released its recommendations on the 28 draft national energy and climate plans (NECPs). While content to see countries complete the task, the Commission urges them to strengthen the plans by putting forward concrete measures to ensure that Europe meets its joint climate goals.

More action needed for transport, agriculture, buildings

Having analysed the draft plans of Hungary, Poland, Romania, Italy and Spain in May, PlanUp has now extended this analysis to the plans of further five countries, namely those of Finland, Sweden, Portugal, France and Germany. These countries are often considered to be Europe’s “climate leaders” and/or drivers of the European project and therefore in a powerful position to shape EU climate policies.

Despite an overall high ambition when it comes to mid and long-term climate and energy goals, especially by Finland, Sweden and Portugal, the analysis reveals a lack of details and quantifiable expected results with regard to policy measures in the transport, buildings and agricultural sectors.

Current holder of the EU Presidency, Finland, that recently committed to reaching carbon neutrality by 2035, plans to rely heavily on flexibilities or ‘loopholes” under the Climate Action Regulation (also known as the Effort Sharing Regulation), such as using surplus pollution permits from the EU’s carbon market or credits from forestry to compensate for greenhouse gas emissions from other sectors. Using these loopholes would undermine climate action in sectors like buildings, transport and agriculture.

Commenting on behalf of PlanUp, Agnese Ruggiero, policy officer at Carbon Market Watch said:

“Finland’s commitment to becoming carbon neutral by 2035 is very promising. Yet, relying on policy loopholes to reach climate goals is dangerous because it means that targets are met on paper but not in practice. The final plan is an opportunity for the new government and the current EU Presidency holder to live up to its claims to lead on climate by committing to concrete measures in sectors such as transport and agriculture.”

With regard to the transport sector, the draft plans generally address critical issues like light transport, biofuels and electro-mobility.

However, they largely fail to recognise the importance of tackling emissions from heavy-duty transport, shipping and aviation - rapidly growing sources of carbon pollution that could undermine climate efforts of all other sectors if left unaddressed.

The buildings sector has vast untapped potential for greenhouse gas emission reductions, yet the plans fall short especially when it comes to planning for deep renovation rates and energy efficiency improvements as well as setting clear objectives for the decarbonisation of the building stocks. Germany stands out on the latter as it sets a very ambitious target of achieving carbon-neutral buildings sector by 2050.

As seen in the Life PlanUp focus countries, agriculture is again largely omitted, with the exception of France and Portugal. Agriculture is one of the first victims of the climate crisis, but it can also significantly contribute to solving it. Robust and concrete policies to decarbonise this sector should be included in all final plans along with a phase-out of subsidies that can be harmful to the climate.

Popular support is key to successful climate action

With varying degrees of stakeholder engagement, the five governments have also missed a crucial opportunity to effectively involve civil society and local and regional authorities early in the process. However, four of the five countries foresee a public consultation and dialogue with multiple stakeholders for the finalisation of the plans.

Agnese Ruggiero:

“Overall, it’s clear that even the self-proclaimed climate leaders can and should improve their plans. We urge them to use the next six months to strengthen the policies and measures underpinning their climate and energy targets, and to better involve stakeholders in the process.”

Putting Paris Agreement into practice

PlanUp advocates for strong and inclusive energy and climate plans as essential to put Europe on track to reach carbon neutrality by 2040 and to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Agnese Ruggiero:

“National energy and climate plans have the potential to turn the Paris Agreement into tangible actions, act as capital raising instruments, provide investment certainty, and involve citizens in climate action. It is extremely important that countries get them right.” 

The Commission will now hold several meetings with the member state representatives in order to support them with the finalisation of their final NECPs, due by the end of December 2019.