As U.S. President-elect Donald Trump pledges to bolster industries blamed for global warming, the European Union is forging ahead with legislation meant to increase the cost of the dirtiest forms of energy.
Environment ministers from the EU are due to meet in Brussels on Monday for deliberations over tighter emission caps on power plants and factories, aiming to make good on a vow to slash greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide by 40 percent in 2030 compared with 1990 levels. The stricter rules to the EU’s cap-and-trade system would kick in as of 2021.
Global leaders are racing to head off temperatures that the United Nations sees rising as much as 3.4 degrees Celsius (6.1 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100, which risks flooding coastal cities like New York and Los Angeles and triggering mass migrations. While differences exist in Europe over the precise policy mix, most EU decision-makers espouse the view that cutting discharges blamed for more frequent heat waves, storms and floods is good for both the earth and the economy.
“It’s a strategic choice made by Europe,” Maros Sefcovic, vice president for energy policy in the European Commission, the 28-nation EU’s regulatory arm, told reporters last week in Brussels. “We believe that we’re creating a low-carbon backbone for the new European economy.”
One challenge for Europe is that much of its economy still looks old, powered by the smokestack industries that Trump champions while being saddled with greater regulatory costs than exist in the Americas and Asia. As a result, the transition to a cleaner future poses a persistent political test in Europe as it continues to struggle with sluggish growth and high unemployment following the financial crisis.
According to a confidential Dec. 14 EU report on the state of play in the negotiations on the tougher post-2020 emissions caps proposed by the commission, national governments are at odds over:
The share of allowances to be allocated for free rather than auctioned
The firepower of a Market Stability Reserve aimed at curbing the allowance glut starting in 2019
The operation of two “low-carbon funding mechanisms” for poorer EU nations
Once they reach an agreement among themselves, the ministers will eventually have to strike a deal over the new emissions-trading rules with the European Parliament, the other EU legislative actor.
At the assembly’s headquarters in Strasbourg, France, last week, around 20 members and advisers from various parties and countries dashed in and out of meetings over three days to craft a package that beefs up the commission’s original proposals considerably, including by deepening the annual reduction in total allowances starting in 2021.
After the measures sailed through the environment committee at an 8 a.m. vote on Dec. 15, smiles on the faces of Green members, handshakes between the lead negotiators of the main parties and downcast reactions by industry lobbyists who had made the trek from Brussels revealed the extent of the political consensus in Europe behind climate policy.
“Clearly, Europe should go ahead, not only for climate-protection reasons but also because future technology is going to be green,” said Bas Eickhout, a Dutch member of the EU Parliament who helped forge the environment committee’s accord. “Washington will be making a big mistake by going back to the 20th century.”