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20th Apr 2019

'EU is overestimating climate-friendly share of budget'

  • EU climate commissioner Canete at Marakech climate summit (Photo: European Commission)

The European Union is “at serious risk” of failing to meet its target on climate funding, because it is overestimating the climate-friendliness of parts of its budget, according to a report by the bloc's audit body.

The EU had agreed that 20 percent of its budget in the 2014-2020 period would be spent on climate action: measures which will either help reduce global warming or prepare for it.

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The European Commission's most recent forecast is that 18.9 percent of the budget will be spent on climate action, but he EU's Court of Auditors questioned the commission's methodology.

The Court of Auditors, not an actual court, can make non-binding recommendations.

“From the weaknesses we found in the commission methodology, we do not consider the figure of 18.9 percent reliable and representative enough to demonstrate that the climate target is close to being achieved,” auditor Phil Wynn Owen told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday (22 November).

Wynn Owen presented the report on the climate budget target, on Tuesday.

The report states that the 20 percent target was a political goal and that the auditors “could not find clear evidence quantifying these investment needs.” Nevertheless, Wynn Owen notes that the target figure matters.

“My view is that particularly in the EU of the current time, trust and delivery are important to our political system,” he said.

“If our political leaders declare targets, it's important they and their staff do all they can to deliver on them.”

Having promised that €1 in every €5 of the EU budget is spent on climate action, it is crucial how climate action is defined.

According to the report, the commission is too freely labelling some spending as climate action.

For example, the commission includes direct payments to farmers as contributing to improving the climate.

Wynn Owen says, “Income support for farmers – is that primarily there for climate action?”

The report also noted that the commission should have adopted a more conservative way of determining what activities are climate action.

While the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reserves its highest category for “activities for which climate is the principal (primary) objective”, the EU counts an activity in the top category if it “makes a significant contribution towards climate change objectives”.

“You could say that they haven't followed what international convention suggests they do, which is apply a conservative principle, a prudent principle to classification,” said Wynn Owen.

In a twenty-page response to the report, the EU commission said it considered "that there is a significant shift towards more climate action" in the EU budget. It said its methodology was "innovative and detailed", but admitted it could be further improved.

The auditor said he was “slightly baffled” by some of the commission's responses to the Court's recommendations.

The auditors recommended that the commission developed "a harmonised and proportionate system" to monitor the actual implementation of climate action.

But the commission says such a new monitoring system "would lead to an increase in the level of the administrative burden imposed on member states."

Wynn Owen drew a parallel with ambitious statements made by the Moroccan chair of climate talks last week at the COP22 summit.

“That positive and proactive spirit of the COP isn't one that I read in the commission reply to our report,” said Wynn Owen.

But he did note that setting a target had "made a difference".

The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), one of the EU's main cohesion funds, has been used to fund projects to insulate residential flats in Bucharest and to renovate heating systems in those buildings.

“Romania is doing more of its ERDF expenditure on energy efficiency in this period, than it did in the previous period, so this is making a difference.”

“Even in the field of agriculture, where we say we found quite a lot of business as usual, and we've had those overestimations I cited to you, here and there our audit teams did find instances of good practice, the like of which perhaps didn't occur so often in the previous period.”

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