A Forward-looking EU Climate Policy
by Xavier Labandeira
20 October 2014
Last spring the Eurobaromoter presented the results of a special survey on the perceptions of EU citizens regarding climate change. Summing up, around half of the Europeans think that climate change is one of the most important problems faced by the world and more than two thirds believe that fighting climate change, promoting energy efficiency and reducing fossil fuel imports (by increasing the share of renewables) will benefit the EU economy and employment. A few months later, the contents of the ‘Resilient Energy Union’ priority for the new Commission largely resemble those findings.
Climate policies are a straightforward response to tackle climate change and EU citizens are aware of that, even though they emphasise the responsibility of national governments in this area. This is somehow surprising, as EU climate policy has gained momentum since the beginning of the century, with the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS) at its core. Although many had expected better results from EU climate policy, its mere existence and developments are significant achievements given the difficulties for global climate agreements during this period. In particular, the EU ETS is a well-founded policy instrument that had to face a very complex environment during its short life, showing capability for adaptation and improvement. But coming back to the views of citizens in the Eurobarometer, perhaps they are right in demanding a more active approach by many member states as they have an important role in regulating non EU ETS sectors.
Notwithstanding the achieved, the challenges for future climate policies in the EU are huge and only a minor part of them are contemplated by the ‘EU 2030 framework for energy and climate policies’, a Commission proposal that pays special attention to new emissions commitments and various reforms in the EU ETS and that is currently being discussed. Indeed, the 2050 roadmap envisions a very low-carbon European society by the middle of the century and this requests not only cost-effective policies for reducing emissions (such as the EU ETS) but also a boost for innovation and decisive actions, usually overlooked, in our public and private infrastructures that are actually warehouses of future emissions. EU and member-state adaptation policies will also play an important role in the next decades and this requires a careful consideration of their fit and contribution to the existing mitigation packages.
Knowing what has worked and how, and properly assessing future actions in this area (including the synergies and interactions associated with a multi-national, multi-objective and multi-instrument setting) is a must for any public policy but more so for large-scale interventions such as those associated with climate change. Yet proper policy analysis has also a very important external component in this case: European climate policies are being closely observed by a myriad of emerging and developed countries, as the EU leadership in this field has implicitly turned them into a lab for the world. Therefore our assessments may guide other governments in the definition and implementation of climate policies and thus may notably facilitate global progress in the fight against climate change.