EU climate ministers debated climate policy on Monday (20 December), with worries about the ‘energy poor’ taking centre stage, and amid veto threats and accusations.
The EU’s keynote ‘Fit for 55’ package – a complex set of rules under debate – aims to reduce EU carbon emissions by 55 percent by 2030.
At its heart is a revision and expansion of the EU’s carbon emissions trading scheme (ETS). Currently, the ETS scheme limits emissions in the power sector and manufacturing industry in Europe.
Now it is set to reduce the number of free allowances for industry, which will “increase the pace of emissions cuts” according to the European Commission.
The commission has also proposed to expand a separate ETS system to housing and shipping (ETS II).
“Let the market do the work. ETS is one of the best instruments we have,” vice-president Frans Timmermans told MEPs on Monday. “Expanding it to housing and markets is essential,” he added.
But the Polish climate minister Anna Moskwa came out hard against the plan. “If the Fit for 55 package contains solutions to the detriment of citizens, we will take all legal action to veto them,” she warned.
“The dysfunctional, unreformed ETS system cannot be transposed to other industries, and an extension to buildings and transport are impossible to accept,” she said.
Climate documents under examination should be agreed upon by unanimous decision, she urged, because they touch on fiscal aspects.
“If we want to accept ETS, we should work in the spirit of compromise, and qualified agreement does not work to ensure that.”
None of the countries on Monday came out in opposition as strongly as Poland, although Czech minister Karel Havlíček last week voiced his support for a suspension of the new ETS rules, and Cyprus is also against expanding the system.
Many countries, including Spain, Hungary, Luxembourg, Belgium, Sweden, Latvia, Lithuania, Ireland, Slovakia, Romania and Malta did however express unease about the price impact on citizens if ETS is extended to housing and transport.
The Netherlands and France, both supporters of ETS, expect debates to continue into next year.
Germany, Finland, Croatia and Denmark also all supported the ETS system and the extension to housing and transport.
Portuguese minister for the environment João Pedro Matos Fernandes, in a call for more action, accused some of telling lies.
“I appreciate that many people are going to lie and say that the energy crisis is a consequence of what we’re trying to do with our climate transition. That is wrong,” he said, without mentioning any names. “Consumer prices for on the energy market in Portugal have been stable for years, because we have invested in renewables.”
He also urged his EU colleagues to iron out differences sooner rather than later.
“There are worries about the justness of the transition, and we also have concerns about the extension of the ETS system to roads and housing, but we need to put an end to our fossil-fuel use,” he said.
“Climate law is mandatory for everyone. We need to invest and make our economies grow […] It is not conceivable we will not reach an agreement during the French [EU] presidency,” which will start in January and last until the end of June.
Timmermans told EU ministers member states will need to lay out their position in the coming months.