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28th May 2022

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Interview: 'Carbon tax' MEP with one eye on Mozambique

  • The Noor-Ouarzazate complex, the world's largest solar power plant, in Morocco. An enormous array of curved mirrors spread over 30km2 that 'make you feel humbled', says MEP Mohammed Chahim (Photo: Flickr/IRENA)
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Sitting behind his desk on the 15th floor of the European Parliament building, 36-year-old Dutch Socialist & Democrats (S&D) MEP Mohammed Chahim reflects on his already extended career in politics.

"I had two passions growing up: maths and politics," he said. "It is easy to make it sound romantic when it all works out, but you can't plan your political career," he said.

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  • Chahim is rapporteur for the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) (Photo: Wikimedia)

Following 14 years of municipal politics in Helmond, a town in the Dutch province of Brabant, he was asked by the Dutch Labour party to be their point man on climate and energy in the European Parliament.

A mathematician by occupation — before his time in Brussels, he designed models that calculate the environmental impact of economic policy decisions — he seemed like the right man for the job.

As vice president of the S&D, he is now responsible for all climate and energy-related issues. And his quick mathematical mind gives him an edge in handling complex dossiers.

Last year, he was made rapporteur for the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), the proposed carbon tax on imported goods which is planned to come into force in 2026.

It is one of the biggest and most complex legislative proposals Europe has ever drawn up.

"At the time, nobody else was interested in it, but I immediately knew I wanted to be the one handling this. It is of central importance to the European climate effort," he said.

CBAM is meant to prevent EU companies from moving their polluting industries to regions with laxer environmental rules. It would impose a levy linked to carbon prices on an array of products such as imported steel, aluminium, fertiliser and cement.

It mirrors the EU's landmark "cap-and-trade scheme" for carbon emissions (ETS) which helps steer European producers towards cleaner modes of production. But in the absence of a global carbon price, companies face competition from exporters elsewhere who can produce at a lower cost.

He points out the obvious elephant-in-the-room: Europe has already outsourced much of its production — and pollution — to China.

"It would not help the world if Europe only reduces its own emissions to zero. We have to set the standard and help other countries adopt European production methods," Chahim said.

CBAM is central to this effort.

Brussels expects to raise nearly €10bn a year from a carbon tax on imports. It immediately triggered a strong response led by Russia, even before the Ukraine war, which is Europe's biggest supplier of carbon-intensive products and stands to lose billions.

But Chahim points out CBAM is already making an impact. "Turkey has already adopted new environmental rules and ratified the Paris Climate accords last year because of CBAM," he said.

But there are negative effects he worries about too and some low-income African countries will be especially affected.

Mozambique

Mozambique, for example, depends hugely on its aluminium exports to Europe. CBAM has the potential to rob the country of one of its most important streams of revenue.

This is why Chahim has advocated in parliament to use a large chunk of the proceeds to help low-income countries to build renewable energy systems and clean up their industries.

"We have the opportunity and responsibility to help least developed nations like Mozambique build a clean energy system."

"Coming from a wealthy country, it is hard for me to tell someone in India they shouldn't drive a car," Chahin said. "But I would just love for is them to skip this stage and go straight to Lightyears (solar panel driven cars)."

And he wants the Global North to make good on its €100bn pledge to help least-developed countries build up clean energy systems.

Chahim, of Moroccan heritage, speaks excitedly about the Noor-Ouarzazate complex, the world's largest solar power plant in the Moroccan desert. An enormous array of curved mirrors spread over 30km2 that "make you feel humbled."

"We have to be at the forefront of this. We can invest a lot of public money because we are incredibly rich," Chahim said. "And we have the opportunity and responsibility to help least developed nations like Mozambique build a clean energy system."

This article first appeared in EUobserver's magazine, War, Peace and the Green Economy, which you can now read in full online.
EU carbon border tax to target imports from 2026

The European Commission wants to impose an import levy on certain goods produced in third countries with lower environmental standards, from 2026. From 2023 to 2025, importers will only have to report emissions embedded in their goods.

War, Peace and the Green Economy

This magazine is about the world's collective and potentially transformational journey towards a green economy. It is also about taking the reader on what we hope is a fascinating "green voyage" across Europe, Africa and China.

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