Thank you very much Margrethe, and thank you for inviting me to speak here this morning.
Congratulations on organizing this conference, which I believe is very timely and extremely necessary, given the challenges we're faced with. Of course, in everybody's mind, the pandemic is now the most important thing. People fear for their health, for their loved ones, for their jobs.
Even though this is what is our most pressing issue today, the support for climate action under the European population is still very, very strong. People understand that the pandemic is an urgency, but the even more profound and enduring urgency are the climate crisis and the risk of ecocide, and that in a time when we also see the results of a profound industrial revolution combined with quickly shifting geopolitical relations.
Of course you don't really see this when you're in the middle of it, but I would argue that if we will look back in 20 years’ time on this period, we will see that this is one of the most transformational periods in human history. Because the transformation now is not just linked with new technologies that arrive in the world at the same time. It is also linked with, frankly, our struggle for survival.
We knew when we devised the Green Deal, and Margrethe was very, very much part of that, we knew that we needed this as a new economic model. Because the old economic model would not be sustainable, given the fact that our natural environment could not support us in that. But after the pandemic, we know that this is our plan for recovery as well.
European leaders have confirmed that when they decided that 30% of all our expenditure will be on climate policy, 20% will be on digitizing our economy – two things that are intimately linked – and that all the expenditure would be spent in a way that do no significant harm to these goals we need to achieve.
Now, this is where we are, at the early days of what I would see as a transformational period in our history. And since we have to invest massive amounts of money to recover, I think we would be relegating our duty, we would simply not be looking in the right direction, if we were to spend that money to restore parts of the economy that had no future. Because then you would lose that money, you would create, as they call, locked-in assets that you will never be able to recover but you will put an increasing burden, a financial burden, on the shoulders of our children and grandchildren without there being anything in it for them.
Because what we need to do, I mean, we have no choice. We have to make these huge investments today. This means going to the financial markets. This means incurring further debt. But that's a good investment if you use that money to transform your economy into a sustainable economy that lives in balance with our natural environment.
Now, as Margrethe has said, the international circumstances in the last year have vastly improved. I remember us being criticized for being alone. ‘You know, we're only responsible for 8 or 9% of the emissions, why go so fast? Others will not follow’. Well, others are following. Because they like what we're doing, but mostly because they have analyzed ‘this is in their self-interest to go into the same direction, because there is no future in the old economy and the old way of producing and consuming’.
So what is the role of what is the role of competition policy in all of this? First of all, let me say that we're in the middle of a negotiation, a very constructive negotiation with the Parliament and Council on the Climate Law. The Climate Law is our law of laws.
The Climate Law would provide the legal basis and the legal framework for the European Union to work towards climate neutrality in 2050 and make sure that we reduce our emissions with at least 55% in 10 years’ time. If you compare the emissions of 1990 in 2030, they should be at least 55% lower. We are still negotiating the exact number, but that is at least intention. The law should create the framework within which we can present a whole host of legislative proposals to Parliament and Council to make sure that we actually transform parts of our economy that need to be transformed.
There are three areas which are particularly difficult to handle, this is what we concluded from our analysis: buildings, transport and agriculture. We will need to make an extra effort to make sure that those sectors can also tag along.
For that, we will have to look for instance at putting a price on carbon in most sectors. The ETS has proven a very, very successful tool. Those operating with it understand it, they've gotten used to it. And I've seen the price I think was yesterday 38 euros per ton, which is amazing given the crisis we're in. So that's a strong and resilient instrument, and I'm sure that will be applied more and more worldwide. The Chinese are developing one; the Americans are very interested in developing it further. It puts a price on carbon and it puts a bonus on decarbonizing. We need to look at new sectors and we need to look at reducing free allowances to create even more discipline.
Of course, we also need to look at correcting at the border if our international partners do not undertake comparable commitments to comply with the Paris agreement. We need to make sure that what we do doesn't create the risk of carbon leakage or of distorting competition to the detriment of European industry. So we will have to introduce in certain areas, very surgically, very precisely, the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanisms to make sure that competition stays fair and that we don't have carbon leakage.
I think this is the right way forward. Most of the industry I have been talking to, and all of us at the Commission, Margrethe and many, many colleagues, are always in close touch with the private sector and industry, because you know you don't need to be convinced. Those of you in the private sector and the industry don’t need to be convinced anymore. Also there, the mentality has changed radically.
The ask we get is ‘give us predictability and give us long-term stability’. I think that's a fair thing to ask. For that, you need clear competition rules, competition rules that are adapted to the new realities, state aid rules that are adapted to the new realities. Which means that we shouldn't be putting public money into industries that pollute, that do significant harm. That would be counter to what we agreed at the European Council. And we should make it easier to invest in this transformation. This is not just a simple investment, it's an investment over long, long periods of time. I know that the contribution of the public sector is only a small part of what it needs to be.
If you look at the investment needs that will be needed – in the trillions – obviously this is not something the public sector can do alone. But we can organize the right conditions for it to happen, we can mobilize public funds to put them in the right direction and that might hopefully create also a catalyst effect for private investors. There is a lot of interest in the private sector for these investments. Long-term analysis shows clearly that this is where the future profits are going to be. This is where your money is safe, where it will bring back the right returns in the future. I believe this is something we can facilitate through competition policy and state aid rules.
We also need to look, for instance, that we make sure that transport radically reduces its carbon footprint. We will especially have to look at air travel and air transport, helping that industry to convert to sustainable methods, but also reducing the use of air transport where there are very, very good alternatives. Short-haul flights should no longer be part of the future transport mix.
A lot of public money has been put into saving airlines now. I understand this, because it is a critical industry for our future economic structure. But it can only be justified if that industry then really takes radical steps towards reducing its carbon footprint and it becoming more sustainable. Airbus is also making really promising steps in that direction, creating prototypes that could fly on hydrogen. You have promising developments in biofuels. So these are also things where I believe state aid rules and competition rules can be very, very helpful.
Well, I need to wrap up. Let me end with a touch of Borgen. I knew Borgen before I knew Margrethe, but when I got to know Margrethe, I understood Borgen even better. You know that every episode of these series starts with a quote to guide the adventures of Brigitte Nyborg. Most of the quotes there are rather gloomy, but there's a very nice one in season three by Thomas Jefferson, I'll give you the quote: “I like the dream of the future better than the history of the past.”
I think this should be guiding our work. This should also help us prevent sinking into doom and gloom. I mean, I like nostalgia. Nostalgia is like a good wine. Drink one glass, two, then perhaps stop because that's the best. Don't drink a whole bottle, you'll get drunk and you'll lose your way. And that's also with nostalgia. If we dwell too much in the past, we don't see the opportunities of the future.
No matter what we're doing, we should all be very much aware in our generation that what we decide today and in the next couple of years, will determine how our kids and grandkids will live 20, 30 years down the road. That is what is at stake. That is what we should be looking at. That's what we should keep our eye on.
Thank you very, very much for your attention.