The European “Green Deal” presents the citizens of the European Union (EU) with the possibilities and opportunities for tackling climate and environmental challenges. The EU sees the most urgent task for today’s generation in tackling them. The issues include new economic growth strategies and the protection of Europe’s natural capital and human health from environmental risks. The EU aims to become a fair and prosperous society with a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy, with no net greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 and economic growth decoupled from resource use.
SOLARZEITALTER: The Commission will launch a European Climate Pact by March 2020. What form can such a pact take, and which actors will act in this context?
Dörte Fouquet: It is important to integrate key points into the forthcoming climate legislation that are clear, comprehensible and verifiable. We need to reintroduce binding and ambitious national targets for the expansion of renewable energies. Unfortunately, under the Recast Directive on the promotion of renewable energies, national binding force has been thrown overboard. What we have is a binding EU expansion target of 32%. This target is clearly not enough to achieve the climate targets after Paris. In addition, the Member States, which have to present their national climate and energy programmes to the Commission, almost all neglect any ambition to help achieve this 32% target. Eight Member States – including Germany – did not even consider it necessary to submit their plan by the end of December. But the plans submitted also leave a great deal to be desired. It should also be noted that 14 EU Member States – unfortunately again including Germany – will not achieve their current binding expansion targets for 2020 under Directive 2009/28/EC. I expect the Commission to open infringement proceedings against all these states in the next few days. I also expect the new climate legislation under the Green Deal to clearly set out a 100% renewable energy target for 2050 and binding interim targets for 2030, 2035, 2040 and 2045, and to provide clear review instruments.
With the forthcoming Green Taxonomy Regulation, we would also have clarity that public funding, including from the European Investment Bank (EIB), for example, can no longer go into non-sustainable energy technologies such as nuclear, coal or fossil gas. Unfortunately, however, the reality looks different: at the moment, for example, the Commission’s current draft for the new list of infrastructure projects of common interest (PCIs) in the Union must also be taken into account. It includes 66 projects related to the field of fossil fuels, including gas and gas-related infrastructure projects. In particular, the proportion of LNG infrastructure projects that are proposed to receive US fracked gas is particularly alarming. However, it would appear that this is the last major entry list for the fossil gas industry before the new “green taxonomy” regulation on preferential financing of green products and processes comes into effect. Despite this, with gas-related infrastructure projects featuring so heavily on the PCI list and without clear and binding targets for the expansion of renewable energy and energy efficiency, we as the European Union really do not need to attend the next World Climate Conference (COP26) in Glasgow this year. These travel emissions can be saved. If we have to and want to be almost greenhouse gas neutral by 2050, then these investments are completely counterproductive. At best, we are making significant contributions to stranded investments that will place burdens on the community and, at worst, further deteriorate the climate for generations to come.
With such sophistry in fossil gas but also in the nuclear sector, which is still trying to distinguish itself as a climate helper, we are wasting precious time and resources and increasing the risk potential for the population in the European Union.
SOLARZEITALTER: The EU as a whole is to transform its economy and society in the interests of sustainability. What does this mean for the economy, politics and those responsible, but also for the individual in society?
Dörte Fouquet: The individual and the individual in society are happy to do a lot for the environment, the climate and the future of children and grandchildren, if they are not left alone and are treated fairly. I am convinced that a repetition of the principles of the ecological tax reform from the years of the first red-green coalition in the Federal Republic of Germany would be welcomed in Germany in an adapted form. Clear targets from Europe under the Green Deal can provide strong backing here. It would not go down well if, in the context of the necessary and fair coal phase-out in Germany, the large coal companies in turn were to be paid substantial amounts of aid. I do hope that the Commission will examine proportionality closely in the necessary investigation procedure.
According to its own statements, our economy is facing considerable investment and modernisation needs in many sectors, whether SMEs (micro, small and medium-sized enterprises) or large companies. Politicians must use this time to support them. When revising the Renewable Energy Sources Act, the grid regulations, etc., it must be ensured that we as an industrialised nation take the restrictions of our energy-intensive companies in international competition seriously, but conversely that we do not continue to create rules and exceptions on a scattergun basis that do not really help companies and, conversely, that prevent companies from being able to make efficiency improvements, for example in the energy and waste heat sectors. Sustainable policy must work closely here with industry, trade unions and civil society for the benefit of sustainable modernisation. But voluntary agreements alone are not enough.
SOLARZEITALTER: The EU also wants to promote sustainable solutions worldwide in the international financial system and take a leading role. How can the Green Deal ensure this?
Dörte Fouquet: If, as described above, the Deal secured binding efficiency improvement targets, binding targets for the expansion of renewable energies and a clear phase-out of nuclear subsidies, just transitions for coal, gas and nuclear and a refusal to finance new fossil or nuclear structures with binding commitments; then Europe would be at the forefront of sustainability and climate protection in the world. However, there must be no loopholes in the new taxonomy regulation for nuclear energy or fossil gas.
SOLARZEITALTER: The Commission had announced in March 2020, as part of an EU industrial strategy, that it will tackle the challenges posed by environmental and digital change. The aim is to exploit the potential of digital change. What conflicts are to be expected with this strategy?
Dörte Fouquet: We need a sustainable strong industrial renaissance in the European Union and the transformation to sustainable value creation with a local focus. So far, the European Union lacks a programme for sustainable industrial modernisation and expansion, which must also be characterised by the good principles of sustainable expansion of renewable energies, such as proximity, local value creation, recycling management and the phasing out of energy-wasting production and distribution. SMEs must have their place here, as must large industries. This is an issue where trade unions, business and civil society must think creatively ahead together and challenge the Commission to be courageous and clear. The conflicts are always the same: Neo-liberalism with its myth of an extremely free laissez-faire market, which does not even exist in textbooks, as well as ancient inertia and climate-critical antiquity against a sustainable willingness to modernise.
SOLARZEITALTER: Dr. Fouquet, thank you very much for the interview.
The interview was conducted by Irm Scheer-Pontenagel, editor of SOLARZEITALTER.