On 16 April, the European Parliament rejected a Commission proposal to breathe new life into the carbon emissions’ trading scheme (ETS), the Union’s flagship instrument for fighting climate change. The vote clearly confirms once more how Europe’s economic and financial crisis has put the EU’s green agenda on a back burner.
The Commission had proposed to postpone the auctioning of 900m carbon allowances (a reform known in EU-speak as “backloading”) in an effort to tackle the extremely low market price of these permits. At current prices , the industry does not really have any incentive to introduce new low-carbon technologies as it can buy allowances to pollute at a very cheap price.
After heavy lobbying from different stakeholders, the MEPs voted 334 against the reform, with 315 in favour. Technically the parliament vote gave its environmental committee the possibility to revisit the proposal but politically most observers agree that it would be very hard to save the reform proposal.
The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) called it “a dark day for European climate action and those pushing for a sustainable exit from the crisis.”
The ETUC also expressed another fundamental concern saying the vote showed “that there is a majority which is ready to use the current crises to impose a short-sighted vision of competitiveness and on these grounds oppose progressive proposals in the fields of environment or social protection. The ETUC sees this conservative stance as extremely worrying at a time when ambition and long-term vision are needed to protect our climate as well as to exit the crisis through investments, sustainable growth and job creation.”
ETUI senior researcher Bela Galgoczi also sees a worrying trend of a conservative view of economic competitiveness taking priority over the EUs green agenda: “Signs were already bad when the EU backed up from putting international air traffic under the ETS. Then we see ‘brainless’ cuts in public funding of renewable energy under the austerity dogma. Competitiveness improvements should be targeted via energy and resource productivity gains and not through making pollution cheaper. This is wrong, counterproductive and damaging both for long term competitiveness, employment gains and the climate.”
David Coats (Research Fellow, The Smith Institute, London)
Andrew Watt and Andreas Botsch