The Green Brief: Europe’s long road out of coal – EURACTIV

the-green-brief:-europe’s-long-road-out-of-coal-–-euractiv

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Greetings and welcome to EURACTIV’s Green Brief. Below you’ll find the latest roundup of news covering energy & environment from across Europe. You can subscribe to the weekly newsletter here.

To burn or not to burn coal was once the question. That has now been emphatically answered: both the need to drastically reduce carbon emissions and the squeeze of rising carbon prices have driven coal beyond viability.

The next question is how to get out of coal. There are still many regions across Europe where the energy mix and local economy are dependent on old coal mines. These jobs are often in areas where there are few other types of employment and people are scared of what will happen when the mines shut.

Different countries have taken different approaches to ditching coal. Some have embraced the energy transition and are eagerly awaiting the just transition fund from Brussels. In countries like Poland and Bulgaria, that trend is particularly seen in the regions where private companies operate mines and power plants.

That is because state-owned companies are better able to swallow rising carbon prices and governments support them because coal is political. Bulgaria, for instance, saw the discussion around coal put on the back burner while its elections took place. No one wants to be the first to say coal is out.

Poland has chosen simply to kick the can down the road. Heavily reliant on coal for its energy, Warsaw wants to run its hard coal mines until 2049 – one year before Europe hopes to reach carbon neutrality. It has not yet reached a deal with unions over phasing out lignite, the more polluting version of coal and the fuel for Poland’s biggest power plant, Bełchatów.

It was that continuation of the status quo that ultimately led to the Turów dispute. Poland prolonged the mine’s licence until 2026 and then again until 2044. It is the first prolongation that is being challenged by the Czech Republic, while the second one could see the region miss out on its portion of EU money under the bloc’s €17.5 billion Just Transition Fund.

All throughout, the European Commission has been very quiet and was criticised for not doing enough around Turów. The EU executive has evaded questions on whether the region will miss out on just transition money if mining continues. The only real suggestion that it could lose its just transition fund has been in a European Parliament document.

The European Commission has never had anything like a Europe-wide strategy to ditch coal – and that shows in the mismatch between regions and friction between countries. The executive hides behind the shield of energy sovereignty – the idea that all countries can choose their energy mixes – but it is consistently eroding that with renewable energy targets and the bloc’s carbon emission reduction goals.

Perhaps this all could have been avoided if the European Union – including its member states – had mapped out and coordinated Europe’s long road out of coal. Instead, we’re left with a mess and a bitter lawsuit between two EU countries.

– Kira Taylor

  • Poland, Czechia fail to mend divisions over Turow coal mine
  • Timmermans: EU countries need to face the consequences of higher climate goals
  • Poland will not comply with EU top court ruling on Turow, PM says
  • EU leaders shelve request on design of climate change targets
  • Bulgaria’s Radev hardens tone on EU climate policy
  • Will this year’s Euro cup have lessons for football’s climate impacts?
  • Germany’s Scholz proposes ‘climate club’ to avoid trade friction
  • EU court orders immediate halt to Turów mine in Poland
  • Europe risks missing e-waste recycling targets, EU auditors warn
  • Global hydrogen production from nuclear power would require 400 reactors, French report says
  • EU Parliament backs ‘low-carbon’ hydrogen, despite Green opposition
  • US waives sanctions on Nord Stream 2 as Biden seeks to mend Europe ties

MADRID. Spain positions itself to be Europe’s green hydrogen hub. Spain has the “best conditions” to become Europe’s green hydrogen hub, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Monday. Read the full story

BERLIN. EU could have a ‘climate club’ to avoid trade friction, proposes German Vice-Chancellor and Finance Minister Olaf Scholz. Germany wants the European Union to create a “climate club” with other countries like the United States, Japan and possibly even China to avoid trade friction linked to green tariffs such as a planned carbon border levy. Read the full story.

BUDAPEST. Hungary scores just under EU average in MNB Sustainability Index. Hungary scored just under the European Union average in the Sustainability Index of the National Bank of Hungary (MNB), a gauge of 108 objective indicators compiled for the central bank’s debut Sustainability Report published on its website this week. Read more.

PARIS. Full steam ahead for French night train. The Paris-Nice night train – which is both cheaper and more environmentally friendly than flying – reopened on Thursday with French Prime Minister Jean Castex on board. Read the full story.

HELSINKI | OSLO. Arctic Ocean rail plans to be redrafted. The Regional Council of Lapland has decided on Wednesday to ditch the existing plans for a 550-kilometre Arctic Ocean rail line worth €2.9 billion between Finland’s Rovaniemi and Norway’s Kirkenes, Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE reported. With planning having to start almost from scratch, the delay may even mean the end of the mammoth project due to doubt over its profitability. 

The indigenous Sámi people welcomed the decision to ditch plans for the rail line, which overturned the prior decision of April 2019. The now-scrapped rail line was feared to disturb reindeer husbandry and pose a threat to Sámi culture. (Pekka Vänttinen | EURACTIV.com)

MADRID. Spain sets 2050 target for a circular, carbon-neutral economy. Spain will aim to achieve a circular and carbon-neutral economy by 2050 to minimise its environmental impact, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has announced. EURACTIV’s partner EFE has the full story.

#FinalCAPdown. EU farm ministers and MEPs are holding talks as the EU looks to find a deal on the controversial CAP reform. There are still some key elements up for grabs, meaning a long negotiation lies ahead. Follow EURACTIV’s blog for all the CAPtivating news.

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Lawmakers call for more ambition on access to justice. Members of the European Parliament have called for the European Commission to improve its proposal on access to justice. In 2017, Europe was found to be in breach of its obligations under the Aarhus Convention – an international agreement that promotes access to justice for civil society on environmental matters. The compliance committee gave Europe until October 2021 to fix this, but many have argued the Commission’s proposal does not go far enough.

“It is of utmost importance that these amendments are upheld and that the Council accepts to take the Compliance Committee’s opinion into account, in order to put a stop to the EU’s breach of international law and guarantee access to environmental justice in the EU,” said Harriet Mackaill-Hill, governance policy officer at Climate Action Network Europe.

The report passed with only the slightest bump in the road, when the right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists requested a split vote on an amendment concerning state aid. However, both parts passed. (Kira Taylor | EURACTIV.com) 

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Three paths to sustainable plastic. The European Environment Agency has released a new report, highlighting three pathways to reduce the impact of plastic on the environment: smarter use, increased circularity and more renewable material. At the moment, 99% of plastics come from fossil fuel, with 7% of crude oil going to plastics production, but this will need to change as Europe aims for a more circular economy.

“Today, plastics are too often used as single-use products, then discarded, then too often littered. The current linear models of production and consumption of plastics are failing nature and our economy at the same time, which is why we need a circular plastics economy,” according to the report.

“The report rightly points out that Europe cannot recycle its way out of plastic pollution but, rather, must have a strategy to reduce plastic use. We need EU- wide reduction targets to promote the already existing alternatives to fast-moving and short-lived plastic applications,” Janek Vahk from Zero Waste Europe told EURACTIV. Read the full report here. (Kira Taylor | EURACTIV.com).

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EU Commission backs €22.5 bn in Polish state aid for wind farms. The European Commission has approved a Polish scheme to support offshore wind farms with €22.5 billion. “The measure will help Poland reach its renewable energy targets without unduly distorting competition,” the Commission said in a statement, adding that the scheme was likely to prompt companies to make investments in green projects that they otherwise would not have made.

Poland has a long coastline with no offshore wind farms but plans to rapidly expand its renewable power capacity in the coming decade. It was the only EU member not to commit to climate neutrality by 2050 when the bloc set the target in 2019 and the government has long courted political support from interests in coal, which provides more than 70% of the country’s power. (EURACTIV.com with Reuters)

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European Commission launches new way to assess trade impacts on nature. The European executive has published a new methodology to assess the impact of trade on biodiversity and ecosystems. This is key as Europe is the second-largest importer of global deforestation, responsible for around 16% despite having just under 10% of the world’s population. Deals like the EU’s Mercosur trade agreement with five South American countries has been delayed by concerns over its impact on nature, with France and Austria refusing to agree to it.

“The acceleration of biodiversity loss, paired with climate change and environmental degradation, have led to the recognition of the green transition as the defining challenge of our time … We have committed to prioritising the effective implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity in trade and investment agreements.” said Executive Vice President for Trade, Valdis Dombrovskis. (Kira Taylor | EURACTIV.com)

  • We can’t burn our way out of the climate crisis – By Peg Putt 
  • Winning the Electric Decade: ‘Electrification Strategy’ at the heart of ‘Fit for 55’ package – By Kristian Ruby [Promoted content]
  • Von der Leyen’s ETS extension to buildings and transport would do more harm than good – By Marcin Korolec
  • Methane is Europe’s New Frontier in the Climate Battle – By Dagmar Droogsma [Promoted content]
  • Time for Paris-compatible coal phase-out plans in Central and Eastern Europe – By Various authors

26 MAY. EU agenda for global forests – getting the balance right. With a keynote address from Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius and more speakers to be confirmed, looking at how to get the balance right in the EU’s forest protection agenda. Programme and registration here. (Supported by COCERAL, FEDIOL and FEFAC)

27 MAY. China, EU and US cooperation on climate change – is there political will to make real progress? Together China, the EU and the US are responsible for around 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Join Jacob Werksman, from the European Commission’s climate department, green MEP, Henrike Hahn, Ye Qi from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and Wendel Trio, Director of Climate Action Network Europe to discuss how these countries can be climate game-changers. Programme and registration here. (Supported by the Mission of China to the EU)

4 JUNE. COP26: will it be different this time? Join Dimitrios Zevglios from the European Commission’s climate department, Jytte Guteland MEP and former Conversative MP Amber Rudd to discuss how the global community will have to work together to address the climate challenge at COP26 and beyond. Programme and registration here. (Supported by Equinor)

1-4 JUNE: Green Week. The European Commission is holding its flagship annual environmental event virtually this year due to the COVID pandemic. Main programme is available here.

21 JUNE: Environment Council. Ministers are expected to adopt conclusions on the EU’s climate adaptation strategy.

14 JULY: Fit for 55 package. The Commission is expected to table a huge package of green legislation in June, including a revision of the renewable energy directive, a revision of the emissions trading scheme and our first glimpse at a carbon border adjustment mechanism.

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