Opening Remarks

 

Thank you Svenja.
 

Good morning to everyone.

 

We are meeting here today in a situation where our societies and our citizens are struggling with a pandemic that only a year ago would have been unthinkable and now it is part of our daily lives. My thoughts this morning go out to everyone in Europe and outside of Europe who are struggling with this. People worry about their loved ones, they worry about their jobs, they worry about how we are going to face this issue. And of course we are going to overcome this and find solutions.

 

But at the same time, some might say ‘why are you talking about a climate law, when this is what we need to face?’. And I would like to say that it is important to talk about the climate law because what we are doing is we are facing not just a pandemic. We are facing an industrial revolution of incredible proportions, we are facing a biodiversity crisis you will be talking about this afternoon and we are facing a climate crisis that will not go away. And perhaps it might not be the top priority we have today, but it will be one of our top priorities for the decades to come.

 

And that is why in my view a climate law is so important. If we, as Europeans, have the ambition to be climate neutral by 2050, we can’t stop at just having that ambition. We have to clarify how we are going to get there. And it is the Commission’s firm belief that a climate law is the best way to assure that we have a path leading to climate neutrality in 2050, that we have a way of self-disciplining, so that we will take the measures needed to get to the target we will insert in the law by 2030 and that we, even when fate or reality throws even other challenges at us, we have a firm pathway to get us to climate neutrality by 2050. That in my view is the importance of the climate law.

 

Getting to climate neutrality is going to require a major transformation. And the climate law can help us take all the steps, step-by-step, to get there. It will provide for predictability and legal certainty – which I think are the essential ingredients for mastering the challenge we face. And this is also something we get back a lot from the private sector: ‘give us predictability and equal certainty’. It will give the institutions that need to coordinate this deep transformation also the legal possibility to act when those who made promises don't deliver on the promises. So, I think it is an exercise in self-disciplining in this transformational age.

 

Of course, I understand that any agreement today can only be partial considering the discussions that are still ongoing at the European Council and the commitment to reach an agreement on the level of the 2030 target at their meeting in December.

Nevertheless, I believe it remains important for the EU to agree on the revised 2030 target as soon as possible, in particular also in the context of the pandemic and the recovery we will need after this pandemic. It is our opportunity for a green and sustainable recovery from this pandemic and for a competitive and resilient economy. I am convinced that with the findings of the impact assessment that we presented in September we now have all the necessary information to decide under which conditions the Union as a whole can reach the new target.

I also understand that some feel that the Impact Assessment does not provide sufficient information on the impacts of a higher target in the Member States. Let me reassure you that the Commission stands ready to engage with Member States individually to share all the knowledge we have at this stage and to listen to your concerns, as the European Council has also explicitly invited us to do.  We are currently updating the reference scenario of our model to prepare next year’s proposals and I really count on your cooperation in this exercise.

But, I also need to emphasise that we cannot have the exact impacts per Member State before we know what the legislation will look like and this is the reason why we will have detailed impacts per Member State only with the proposals we will make in June next year, well most of them in June next year.

Public consultations are just about to start on these proposals and I really invite all of you to be actively engaged in those.

Agreeing quickly on the new 2030 target will also allow us to submit our updated nationally determined contribution to the UN still this year, as is requested by the Paris Agreement.

Back to today’s discussion. Whilst we are awaiting guidance from the European Council on the 2030 target, it is most useful that you engage on the text of the European Climate Law. The European Parliament adopted its position on the Climate Law two weeks ago and I hope that the Council can agree on a partial general approach today, so that trilogues can start swiftly.

Of course, I am ready to support the discussions between the Council and the Parliament as an honest broker.

I strongly support what the Presidency has done to try and bring all of us together. And I think this is what we need to do now.

And let’s not forget that in July, Europe showed a level of collective solidarity that we hadn’t seen in a long long time. And we now have the possibility, once this agreement has been ratified in all Member States, to invest in our collective future at a level that we never had before.

Let’s make sure that this investment is in line with the need to decarbonize our society and to reach climate neutrality. Let’s make sure that everything works together in the same direction. And for that, for that we really need the climate law.

Thank you very much.

 

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Closing remarks

I have listened carefully to what is being said and I have to say, also thanks to your efforts, there is a great deal of convergence on the compromise text you have prepared. This makes me optimistic that an agreement could be reached in form of a partial general approach today.

Let me give you a few of my thoughts on the comments and remarks that were made.

The trajectory in the Commission proposal was never meant to set targets, but was rather a tool to measure progress towards climate neutrality in 2050. I see that Member States and the European Parliament don’t share the Commission’s view on this. But I have also said many times before that in my view what counts is the results we achieve, and I am absolutely open to discussing the instruments that we need to achieve those results. What we need to do is to measure our progress towards our goal and be able to swiftly adapt our policies and measures if we are not on track. And I think this is going to be important since we are talking about such a long period of time that we can correct along the way.

Second point, setting intermediate targets will always remain the responsibility of the co-legislators, the Commission can make a proposal but it is the Parliament and Council that decide. We heard that you have different views whether these targets should be set for five years or for ten years.

Let me stress that a 10-year timeframe does not prevent us from updating our targets after five years, at the moment of the global stocktake under the Paris Agreement. You know we also have a global context to take into account when we do this, we are not on our own in this.

What we really should avoid is that any discussion on the targets should not distract us from putting in place the policies and measures we need and that we provide, as I said before, sufficient predictability. This is what everybody in this field, especially the private sector, asks of us. We need to remain realistic enough to recognise that by setting a target you don’t achieve the goal. That is I think important to understand. But it does help us to steer the policies in the right direction so that we do decarbonize step by step and create sustainable economic structures along the way.

It goes without saying that we need an enabling framework to achieve the 2030 target. We have such a framework for the current target, and we will strengthen this framework further to achieve also the new target. 

We will underpin our climate ambition with policies fostering a just transition, research and development, and sustainable finance. Here I believe Next Generation EU, the structural funds and especially the Just Transition Fund, as well as Horizon Europe and the Sustainable taxonomy initiatives will have a key role to play. And I can’t be clearer than by saying this transition will be just or there will be just no transition. It is that simple.

So reflecting the December 2019 European Council conclusions in a recital as you have proposed seems like a good way forward.

Of course, we have to recognise that some Member States will achieve climate neutrality earlier than others. We don’t all have the same starting position. The 2050 climate-neutrality objective which we set out in our proposal is by definition therefore Union-wide, while it is important that all Member States contribute to it, in line with what the European Council agreed in December last year.

In this context I would like to stress that our legislation on climate has always taken into account the different situations in Member States. Always. And how we through this legislation could help to account for these differences. Clearly, the new proposals we will be putting forward next year will contain appropriate elements to support Member States in the implementation and the achievement of the targets. So if that is your worry, I can assure you here today that this will be part of every proposal we make targeted per Member State.

So we can achieve our objectives if we promote fairness and solidarity among Member States and act in the most cost-effective way. For that we need the European scale obviously. The Presidency text includes slightly adjusted wording in Article 2 in order to achieve an equal balance between these elements. Indeed all elements are important and I do not see particular problems with this wording.

I understand that some Member States would like to further clarify the role of the European Council. A lot was said about that today. But at the end of the day, it is also a legal question. This is about the Treaty. And we need to respect the Treaty. Of course, there is a political dimension in all of this, but at the end of the day, you cannot use the Climate Law to change the Treaty. The Climate Law should be within the Treaty, obviously, but apparently, it doesn’t hurt to stress this. So going beyond the factual description as is in the new recital 12a in the Presidency text would be in my view not possible because then we run into legal problems. I understand that this is also, if I am correct, the Council Legal Service’s position.

I am glad to see that we all agree on the importance of enhancing adaptation efforts, as adaptation is a key component of the long-term global response to climate change. I think these things are completely interlinked. So a number of you have already asked the Commission to strengthen these elements and also in the Presidency text we have before us today reflects this. So again thank you to the Presidency for taking this into account. We could also add adaptation in the title of the Regulation if that would be seen as helpful.

With all of this, let me stress again, that it would be of extreme importance if we could agree on the text of today’s meeting. It will allow us to enter into trilogues with the European Parliament, which is awaiting our position and it would also create the balance between the co-legislators we need to advance.

Thank you very much.