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  • Climate,
  • environment,
  • Fit for 55,
  • Green New Deal

In 2015, at the climate summit in Paris, the EU pledged to limit global warming to 1.5 °C. This week, it will show whether it stands by this commitment with the European Parliament voting on the first part of the “Fit for 55” package.

In an unprecedented move, a majority of MEPs rejected the reform of the carbon market, whose climate ambitions had been torpedoed by the right and lobbies. Three major files of the package were then sent back to the Committee on Environment.

But what is the Fit for 55 package actually about? 

The Fit for 55 package is a bundle of measures to revise and update EU legislation, ensuring that EU policies are in line with the climate goals agreed by the Council and the European Parliament. The package includes concrete proposals on how to transform the European economy in a climate-friendly way and what individual sectors of the economy should do to achieve this.

The name “Fit for 55” refers to the EU’s target of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030.

So far, so good.

However, the implementation of the climate protection plans will take years, in some cases to ensure transition periods. The legislative process itself is also expected to drag on for years.

MEP Silvia Modig (Vasemmistoliitto, Finland) criticised the Parliament’s hesitant approach: “In terms of climate change, it seems that we as a human race lack a sense of self-preservation. We are short-sightedly holding on to the gains we have made, even though we know that there is no way back.” She added: “Putting on the brakes does not protect anyone, quite the opposite.”

 

The main proposals of the package

Fit for 55 envisages new taxes and tariffs, the de facto end of the combustion engine, a fuel tax for intra-European flights, as well as a levy on imports from third countries that produce more climate-damaging emissions than the EU. The package aims to integrate shipping and aviation into the emissions trading system, and the heating of commercial buildings and commercial road traffic. In particular, the planned expansion of emissions trading will have a strong impact on consumers. To this end, there is to be a climate social fund worth many billions of euros.

“The Social Climate Fund is perhaps the most important envelope, because it marks the abandonment of the perfect market doctrine and moves towards building a new climate welfare state”, MEP Petros Kokkalis (Syriza, Greece) said. He added:  “Parliament’s compromise proposal has the potential to send this strong message, to direct the Climate Fund to finance green investments in housing and transport, for the benefit of the most vulnerable citizens and of the European economy and democracy.” Idoia Villanueva Ruiz (Podemos, Spain) pointed out: “The ecological transition cannot be made at the expense of people and territories and, above all, what it cannot be is an alibi for huge profits for multinational companies.”

Particularly controversial are the planned tightening of emissions trading, the border adjustment mechanism and the end of the combustion engine. 

On the latter, MEP Nikolaj Villumsen (Red-Green Alliance, Denmark) said: “2035 is already too late. The forces that are trying to water down and delay the greening of our cars are failing the climate and our children’s future. When we vote on how long to allow the sale of fossil fuel cars, we are deciding whether to side with the past or the future; whether to side with the car industry or with the climate and future generations.” MEP Joao Pimenta (PCP, Portugal) called for more holistic measures: “Other policies are required to reduce emissions: Effectively promoting public transport at affordable prices or free of charge to encourage collective transport, replacing imports with national production, promoting short supply chains, fostering complementarity and not destructive competition between countries.” On the subject, MEP Kateřina Konečná (KSCM, Czech Republic) added: “Before banning the sale of new cars with internal combustion engines, we must first offer people an affordable alternative to personal transport. I would be very unhappy if the revision of this regulation turned out like the last time, when Member States washed their hands of the development of clean mobility and its infrastructure.” MEP Cornelia Ernst (DIE LINKE, Germany) agreed: “Better than electric cars would be fewer cars. That’s why we need better, free public transport & affordable, environmentally friendly vehicles.”

The hour-long debate in the EP plenary made clear: whereas science, environmentalists and progressive forces are fully aware of the dramatic impact climate change has, there are powerful actors trying to block climate protection.

 

An alliance of the far-right and big business 

Unsurprisingly, the center-right and the far-right are acting on behalf of polluters, blocking attempts to increase climate ambition. Some of their MEPs even see climate change as a left-wing conspiracy, calling the EU’s Green New Deal “asocial” and the Social Climate Fund a “communist scheme”.

Manon Aubry, MEP (La France insoumise, France) and co-chair of The Left, denounced the greed of big corporations who have successfully blocked ambitious climate legislation for 30 years: “We in the Left Group in the European Parliament already regret the weakness of this climate package, whose objective and means are not even aligned with the Paris agreements, and which continues to rely on market mechanisms. But these small steps are clearly still too much for some, and they are threatened, as they were thirty years ago, by the action of the lobbies.” 

During the negotiations on the Fit for 55, corporate lobbies made a monumental effort to water-down proposals for ambitious climate protection. Marisa Matias, MEP (Bloco de Esquerda, Portugal) states: “Only a few days ago we saw reports of Members of this House dining with airline representatives. The targets put forward are below what the science says, the lobbies have gutted every proposal. Seeking to meet funding needs by shifting costs to the most vulnerable while protecting business is immoral.”

MEP Mick Wallace (Independents 4 Change, Ireland), comments: “The world is on fire. Scientists have just told us plastics are in our blood. The UN has warned of total societal collapse due to climate breakdown. Yet President von der Leyen and Commissioner Simson met with CEOs of six fossil fuel companies recently, including Shell, BP and Total, on the same day that REPowerEU was released.”

Winning a battle, losing the war

Once again, the Parliament’s right-wing groups prefer to defend the lobbies rather than the general interest, in particular by trying to postpone the removal of free quotas from the carbon border adjustment mechanism, offering industries a free right to pollute, until 2034. 

But this time they lost. A majority in the European Parliament voted against it.

MEP Malin Bjork (Vänsterpartiet, Sweden) states: “The left’s climate change approach is all about tough targets and regulations. It’s about creating decent jobs. It’s about the climate transition being fair. The polluter must pay, and those who pollute the most must pay the most. We also accept the facts and listen to science. We know, for example, that we have one planet – one. But the right in this Parliament does not listen to science, and they behave as if we had two, three or four planets. Now that we have the most important climate vote of this parliamentary term, perhaps of this decade, the right-wing group chose to lean on the climate deniers on the far right and to overrun the Committee on the Environment. That is a disgrace. It is a betrayal.”

MEP Silvia Modig concludes: “Instead of taking the much-needed steps toward climate action and the Paris Agreement, the Right decided to water down all our efforts in committee. They ended up with a proposal that was no longer valid for most of the European Parliament. Now the work continues, and we will work tirelessly on the Left for a better result for the climate.”

Other important votes on the EU climate package were also postponed after the failure of the Emissions Trading System (ETS) reform. The dossiers on the planned EU border adjustment mechanism for CO2 and the climate social fund have also been sent back to the environmental affairs committee. Discussions will resume in committee in September on ETS, the Social Climate Fund (SCF) and the EU carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM).

To watch our video on “Fit for 55” click here (external link): #Fitfor55

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