Belgium, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) Ater almost a year of difficult negotiations, the first proposals of the Fit for 55 package, the European Green Deal’s legislative core presented by the Von der Leyen Commission in July 2021, have finally reached the first vote in the European Parliament.
In fact, in the two plenary sessions this month, we adopted the House’s position on a series of dossiers that aim to reform the EU climate policy architecture, raising the ambition in several key sectors, increasing carbon removals from forests, reforming the European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), as well as establishing the new carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM) and a Social Climate Fund to support the most vulnerable in the transition.
But let us proceed in order. First of all, it is important to make a premise about the approach with which we, as the Greens/EFA group, approached this package of proposals. The texts originally presented by the European Commission, in fact, were conceived in line with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, an important step forward compared to the current legislative framework, but still far from what is needed to comply with the Paris Agreement and to keep the temperature increase within 1.5°C.
For this reason, throughout the parliamentary process, we have fought to increase the ambition of the various dossiers in an attempt to bring them in line with climate requirements and scientific evidence, achieving substantial improvements in some cases, but also coming up against furious opposition from the right-wing and the most reactionary groups in the hemicycle, who are subject to pressure from industrial lobbies and determined to do anything to hinder the transformation to a climate-neutral economy.
One of the votes that saw the biggest clash in the chamber was the vote on the ETS, a key instrument in the fight against the climate crisis, which obliges large polluters, such as industries and refineries, to buy certificates corresponding to their level of emissions, the total share of which decreases year by year, thus promoting decarbonization.
However, this system, which has been in place for many years, has some serious shortcomings, such as the right of many industries to benefit from free allowances, which de facto correspond to the possibility of polluting without paying. All the more so in light of the introduction of the CBAM, a mechanism aimed at taxing the emissions of goods imported into the EU and, as such, ensuring a level playing field with European products, we Greens supported the ending of free ETS allowances for industries in parallel with the entry into force of the new instrument. The right-wing groups, however, tried hard to preserve this privilege at least until the European Commission’s own proposal, i.e. 2035.
Nonetheless, after strenuous clashes and the postponement of the vote to the next plenary session, we managed to find a compromise that set 2032 as the end date for free allowances.
Another crucial battle, which ended with an even more favorable outcome, was the one on CO2 emission standards for cars and vans, in which we safeguarded the ban on new endothermic-engine vehicles – i.e. petrol and diesel – from 2035. In this case, the Italian government was unfortunately among the most devious in its attempt to scuttle the vote and reduce the ambition of the targets.
Unconcerned about the fact that Italy is tragically first in Europe in terms of premature deaths from air pollution, also due to road transport and the exorbitant number of cars per inhabitant (650 per 1000), Draghi’s executive has in fact tried to put pressure on us MEPs not to support the target of 100% CO2 reductions from cars and vans by 2035 and instead endorse inefficient and polluting solutions such as synthetic fuels. Faced with this failure, the government then recently presented a document to the European Council proposing to postpone the stop on fossil fuel engines until 2040, demonstrating the absence of any programmatic vision and the inability to provide clear certainties to the automotive sector.
As for the other dossiers in the Fit for 55 package, although they were not the subject of such deep clashes, we have nevertheless pledged to strengthen them in order to accelerate climate action, for example by supporting the inclusion of the entire aviation sector within the ETS and by introducing new obligations for Member States to increase the carbon sink capacity of the land, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector.
Also worth mentioning is the establishment, which we Greens strongly supported, of the Social Climate Fund, the first of its kind, which aims to help EU citizens cope with the costs of the transition, especially in a context of high volatility and rising energy prices, and which is targeted in particular at the most vulnerable individuals and households, as well as micro-enterprises in difficulty. In this context, we are pleased to have been able to obtain more investment in energy efficiency and renewables, as well as in the deployment of heat pumps. Indeed, it should be clear to everyone by now that energy efficiency and renewable energy are the fastest and cheapest way to reduce energy costs and finally achieve full energy independence.
The picture that emerges from this hectic month at the European Parliament is therefore particularly complex and multifaceted because, albeit we have managed to improve many proposals, preserving their positive aspects and filling several gaps, it has unfortunately not always been possible to guarantee levels of ambition in line with what the urgency of the climate crisis requires.
This is why our Group is more determined than ever to pursue all these battles, both in the interinstitutional negotiations and in the legislative process of the other Green Deal proposals, so as to build a climate policy in line with the Paris Agreement and in accordance with the position of the scientific community, opposing the climate change deniers as well as the lies of the right-wingers and their fake pragmatic environmentalism.