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28th Oct 2021

Timmermans: high energy prices must speed up transition

  • Gas and electricity prices have risen to historic levels across EU member states in the last months - while costs for renewables have remained low and stable (Photo: European Parliament)
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The current price hike in the European energy sector shows the need to reduce the EU's dependency on imported fossil fuels and speed up the transition to green energy, EU's climate chief Frans Timmermans told MEPs on Tuesday (14 September).

Gas and electricity prices have risen to historic levels across EU member states in the last month - with carbon prices reaching a record high of more than €60-per-tonne last week.

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High energy bills are already affecting businesses and households across the bloc, but only about 20 percent of the price increase can be attributed to the CO2 prices rising, Timmermans said - noting that costs for renewables have remained low and stable.

"One thing we cannot afford is for the social side to be opposed to the climate side," he warned, arguing that this is a "threat" that has become clear in the discussion about the price hike in the energy sector.

"We have to be very clear on one thing: whatever measure you take, it will have a price effect. But the art of politics will be to ensure that the price effect does not affect the most vulnerable," he added.

Under the Green Deal, the EU aims to reduce carbon emissions by 55 percent by 2030 (compared to 1990) to reach climate neutrality by 2050 - with a complex range of policies, from increasing renewables energy use and banning combustion engines from 2035, to establishing a carbon border tax.

"Had we had the Green Deal five years earlier, we would not be in this position because then we would have less dependence on fossil fuels and natural gas," Timmermans said.

Timmermans spoke during the debate in the European Parliament, focussed on the so-called 'Fit-for-55' package - the mammoth package of 12 legislative proposals presented by the commission earlier this year.

The EU's climate chief rejected the idea of focusing the political discourse on the cost of the transition while avoiding talking about the cost, in economic and human terms, of natural disasters, such as floods seen this summer in Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, Austria, Italy and Romania.

ETS extension under fire

However, many MEPs raised concerns about the social implications of certain climate policies, especially those aimed at reducing the environmental footprint from cars and buildings - two sectors that have seen emissions increase steadily over the last years.

Expanding the Emissions Trading System (ETS) to include road transport and the heating of buildings is seen by many as a risky measure since it could potentially raise the petrol and heating bills of millions of households in the EU.

Conservative MEP Anna Zalewska (ECR) said that citizens will "unfortunately pay for the ambitions of the EU".

"That's why I think what we need to do is to make sure that they do not end up in energy poverty," she added.

Currently, there are some 34 million Europeans unable to warm their homes adequately.

The chair of the parliament's environment committee, MEP Pascal Canfin, also opposed the ETS extension, arguing that "the political cost is extremely high and the climate impact is very low".

Greens call for more

Meanwhile, Green MEPs on Monday had urged the EU Commission to speed up proposals, arguing that "the business community needs clear deadlines and predictability to make investment decisions today and not in 10 years".

Their call comes after a landmark report was published in August by the UN climate science panel, estimating that global temperatures are likely to exceed the 1.5 degrees of the 2015 Paris Accord over the next 20 years.

Green lawmaker Ska Keller stressed that subsidies for fossil fuels must end immediately to boost innovation and the transition to renewables energies.

"Not only are we losing out in the fight to get the climate conditions liveable, but also in the race for who provides the tools and technologies for the transition," she warned.

Opinion

Why 'Fit for 55' isn't fit for purpose

In a worst-case scenario, the EU's climate policies would exclude developing nations from international trade, forcing them to trade with each other, forming economic and environmental 'ghettos' while the wealthy West enjoys the benefits of free trade and clean energy.

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Building performance - win-win for climate and EU Commission?

Many regard Fit for 55 as the moment for European climate policy. However, wait just a little longer, as perhaps most crucial piece of legislation will be the revision of the Energy Performance in Buildings Directive in the autumn.

Spain wants energy price discussion at next EU summit

Spain wants to discuss the current energy price spike at the next EU summit in October, and called on the European Commission to provide member states with guidance on how to react to current record gas and electricity prices.

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