• The reliability of the COPGPT algorithm never disappoints. Every recent COP climate conference is labelled as a ‘make or break moment’ as expectations rise in the build-up. The host nation carries the mantle of an honest broker while simultaneously pushing a separate agenda to clean up its own image or grab lucrative side deals. An international coalition led by the European Union tries to achieve another, final climate breakthrough, but is met with fierce opposition. In the end, the summit saves face with a climate pledge that sounds appealing, but changes little when it comes to limiting global warming.

    The recently concluded COP28 summit in Dubai followed a very similar pattern. Filtering through the media hype and the UAE’s self-praise, what are the most important takeaways?  

    ‘The historic deal’

    Labelled as the ‘UAE Consensus’, the hosts have lauded the final communiqué as a global breakthrough on fossil fuels. The official commitment calls for the signatories to pursue: “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner […]” The joint document didn’t live up to the ambition to feature explicit language about the need to ‘phase-out’  fossil fuels, a pledge supported by more than 100 countries, including the US and EU member states.

    Instead, ‘transitioning away’ remains an extremely lofty commitment, which serves mostly the interests of petroleum exporting nations (OPEC+), who won’t be feeling any additional pressure to cut down on their production. Not to mention the fact that this call doesn`t feature any tenable timeline for its implementation. The open interpretations surrounding a ‘just and orderly’ transition are also a wink to oil price stability, which is why Saudi officials left the summit in a jubilant mood.

    Almost a decade after the landmark Paris Agreement, we are sold the ‘UAE Consensus’ as an actual breakthrough on limiting fossil fuel dependencies.

    It is not.

    Renewables and energy efficiency

    One of the more notable highlights of the climate conference has been the growing interest in the Global Renewables Alliance. More than 120 countries have joined the pledge to triple renewable energy generation capacity to at least 11 TW by 2030, and collectively double the global average rate of energy efficiency improvements also by 2030. The implementation of such a demanding promise remains to be seen, but at least we are seeing a tangible pledge which strives to keep global stakeholders closer to the goals of the Paris Agreement.

    However, the good news was darkened by the unwillingness of China and India to sign this specific commitment. The two Asian economies are the first and third biggest global polluters, jointly being responsible for around 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Even though China has an impressive record in renewable energy deployment, Beijing has refused to commit, most probably due to their concerns that they won’t be able to follow up on energy efficiency improvements.

    Nuclear energy and carbon management

    Another positive signal came from a group 20 countries who made a separate agreement to triple their nuclear energy capacity until 2050. More than half of the signatures came from European countries, also joined by the US, Canada and Japan, among others. Traditional nuclear power plants remain a costly endevour, and much of this renewed engagement will bear fruit much later, in the 2030s. However, considering that every rigorous decarbonsation scenario requires a manifold increase of clean electricity supply, nuclear energy remains an important piece of a 2050 outlook.

    In parallel, as a separate coalition building exercise, countries from six continents launched the carbon management challenge, which aims to accelerate the deployment of carbon capture and storage technologies. Countries such as Brazil, Canada, Indonesia, Kenya, the UK and the US are among the main interested, while this type of technology has a large potential for developing countries globally.

    Climate finance

    As always, the issue of financing the global transition remained thorny. The necessity to mobilise international funds in support of developing countries’ decarbonisation effort is beyond doubt. However, as exemplified by the disappointing progress of the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the actual involvement of developed countries remains lukewarm. Not to mention the fact that the recent COP 28 promises on climate finance pale in comparison to the trillions of euros of annual investments needed to transform the global economy towards a more sustainable path.

    One of the most misdirected initiatives has been the ‘loss and damage’ fund. This is a new compensation vehicle which would require rich nations to provide funds to poorer nations after suffering severe climate events. Letting aside the complex legal issues which will challenge both international and national legal frameworks, this mechanism could create a downwards spiral of endless claims and controversies between nations. If the ‘loss and damage’ fund is just another way of providing development aid, it will be cursed with the same shortcomings. Unfortunately, such a mechanism would also disincentivise developing countries to invest in climate mitigation and adaptation measures.

    All of the developments and disappointments discussed above seem to exemplify the nature of the COP format. Expect smart and nimble small coalitions between like-minded countries, a common front by the Asian polluters, as well as cloak and dagger tactics by OPEC+. National development objectives will always prevail, while the ambitious pledges of the industrialised nations will never cover their own shortcomings, making them less of a role model for others.

    The travelling circus of the COP and its coterie of consultants and climate gurus is trumpeted as a success for its ever growing participation and global ‘engagement’. However, the forum is mostly valuable for what happens on its fringes. Make no mistake, the conference in its current format and with its built-in limitations can only overpromise and underdeliver on the global transition towards carbon neutrality.

    Dimitar Lilkov Peter Hefele Climate Change Crisis Energy Foreign Policy

    Dimitar Lilkov

    Peter Hefele

    COP28: Between Greenwashing and Modest Progress


    21 Dec 2023

  • Scientific consensus has confirmed that that the ongoing increase in average global temperature poses manifold threats to humanity. Despite suggestions to the contrary, the effects of changes in the Earth’s climate on human mobility and cross-border migration are still unclear, especially with regard to migration to Europe. Attempts to coin the term ‘climate refugee’ suggest the need to expand the scope of the 1951 Refugee Convention, as the existing definition of a refugee does not cover climate change. We argue that attempts to widen the scope of the Convention would end up in failure, and even if they succeeded, the inclusion of climate change would damage the international protection regime.

    Climate Change Migration

    Why There Cannot be Climate Refugees


    28 Apr 2023

  • The US Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA), after being welcomed initially, has created some irritation in Europe. The IRA’s aim was appreciated, but the instruments were confusing. The difference in approach between transatlantic partners forced the EU to seek a counterbalance. The European Commission has come forward with a proposal for a Green Deal Industrial Plan, which is considered an immediate response to the American legislation. Is this game positive for climate? Or will it be a zero-sum game, resulting in different implementation on either side of the Atlantic and with competing instruments, less positive for the climate?

    The EU is a leader in climate policies and has the most effective mechanisms to promote a green transition. The energy sector and highly emitting industries are covered by the Emission Trading System, and must buy CO2 permits which have been reaching ever higher prices. In order to shelter these companies from the competition of imported, CO2-intensive products, the EU has introduced the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism. In principle, the system is complete. Other countries are incentivised to introduce a carbon price, which if paid would count within the EU. If EU policies are reciprocated universally, then the reduction of harmful emissions globally would be most efficiently addressed.

    Climate was always an area of some frictions in transatlantic relations. The EU was at the forefront of climate actions. The US was an indispensable, but difficult partner in international climate discussions. One needs only to remember the beginning of UNFCCC negotiations and the Kyoto Protocol. But Europeans have been surprised by the fact that recent positive climate measures in the US have taken forms which contrast EU efforts. The American approach incorporated in the IRA is based on subsidising the uptake of climate-friendly technologies and production. This approach is linked – in some cases – to local content requirements, or LCRs. And this difference between the US and the EU is difficult to ignore. European companies are asked to pay punitive CO2 charges, and could only evade these payments by investing in clean technologies. Like in the US, there are public subsidies in the EU to help them. Obviously, the ETS revenue should be at least partially used to embark on the green transformation, but who receives it, how much and for what, depends mostly on member state governments. Thus, those who receive public aid are not necessarily the most significant to the green transformation in Europe.

    In the US, the IRA enables support for interested companies in green investments and production. Paying for emissions is limited to only a few states. This difference can have an impact on business decisions. European businesses are free to consider where to invest in some promising new technologies. The IRA framework makes the use of public funds uncomplicated, provides more clarity, already at an early stage, and it happens in the investment-friendly environment of the US.

    The European Green Deal has not placed a focus on these aspects at its early stage. This resulted, at the beginning of 2023, in the rushed European response to the American IRA in the form of an EC Communication on the Green Deal Industrial Plan, containing reference to important components, i.e., the Net Zero Industry Act (NZIA) and the Critical Raw Materials Act (CRM Act). The overall package provides a framework addressing issues exposed by the different approaches on either side of the Atlantic.

    Is the European reaction adequate or should it counter American measures more aggressively? Are all the elements of the Green Deal Industrial Act a sufficient reaction to changed rules of the game? The “tit-for-tat”, according to game theory, might be an optimal reaction in some cases. It can pay off if one of the sides reciprocates with what the other has done. In the prominent book “The Evolution of Cooperation”, Robert Axelrod underlines the importance of taking into account an iterative nature of the game. Transatlantic relations between two of the most closely linked democracies will continue, and reciprocal measures should be considered with this in mind. Axelrod underlines that a successful strategy, even if based on retaliation, should be non-envious. In this particular game, the EU retaliates with respect to measures that have upset European industry, but it should also think about what its next moves should be to avoid a negative outcome.

    Transatlantic cooperation must also be seen in the global context of rivalry, including with China, for raw materials and control of important components of global value chains. First of all, the EU should not shoot itself in the foot by doing things which would negatively affect its own economy. Distorting the EU Single Market would be one such negativity. The European response to the American IRA does not yet include new money. Therefore, it is criticised by business as insufficiently impactful. Fortunately, Europe is not accelerating the subsidy race. If others are introducing suboptimal policies, Europe should not necessarily imitate them. Some measures in American industrial policies can easily be considered inefficient and the EU should not simply mimic them, but instead concentrate on how to do better. Ambitious European thresholds of self-sufficiency, in relation to major critical raw materials, can be considered as analogous to LCRs of the American IRA, however they are targets without strong mechanisms of implementation.

    The public aid within the American IRA must be seen in the context of overall simpler conditions of investing in the US. The EU has rightly avoided mobilising new funds. Public aid is already offered in various forms by the EU and its member states in amounts exceeding what the IRA provides. Measures to speed permissions and approvals, focus on new skills, the flexibility of changing jobs, and up-skilling, i.e., changing the investment environment in Europe, should help to avoid a zero-sum as an outcome of this regulatory game.

    Jarosław Pietras Climate Change Regulation Transatlantic

    Jarosław Pietras

    Avoiding a Net-Zero Sum Game in Transatlantic Relations


    05 Apr 2023

  • Amid much fanfare, in February 2015, the EU launched its flagship proposal for an EU Energy Union. Occurring less than a year after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the EU’s response was a sweeping vista of energy diversification based on a unifying internal energy market and greater energy efficiency. Spooked by the fear of being cut off from Russian gas supplies and a spike in the oil price to over $110 a barrel, the EU proposed speedy, resolute action.

    Indeed, in 2014 the then Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk argued that ‘regardless of how the stand-off over Ukraine develops, one lesson is clear: excessive dependence on Russian energy makes Europe weak.’

    2022, unfortunately, is telling a similarly sorry story.

    Remarkably, seven years and one ongoing Russian military invasion later, the EU’s Energy Union remains a pipe dream. Europe is still addicted to Russian gas and has not appreciably reduced its dependency since 2015. And this addiction (45% of total gas imports in 2021) is crippling the EU’s ability to conclusively weaken Putin’s energy-resourced war machine.

    In 2015, the Juncker Commission pushed energy diversification high on the institutional agenda, but this prescience wasn’t shared by national capitals. And given the scale of Gazprom’s current gas grip on Europe – 12 European countries are dependent on Russia for at least 80% of their gas supplies– it’s clear that the EU’s proposals have failed miserably.

    In truth, this was a political failure driven by two factors. First, the collapse in energy prices from late 2014 (largely driven by global oversupply). This easing of price pressures lulled European leaders into a false sense of energy security aided by the rapidness of Russia’s Crimea takeover.

    For all the official protests at Russian expansionism, most national governments focused solely on business as usual with their Russian suppliers. Germany’s embrace of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is the worst kind of example.

    The second was the emergence of climate change ambition as the sole driver of national and European energy policy. The race to cut carbon emissions and place the EU as the world’s leading environmental bloc resulted in Brussels overlooking important strategic concerns. Risks such as security of supply and overdependence on Russia as an energy producer were blithely ignored as Europe’s climate ambitions expanded.

    The result is an EU that – incredibly – continues to send billions of euros to Russia for gas and oil supplies notwithstanding the ongoing devastation of Ukraine. Energy supplies remain exempt from EU sanctions. Germany, as Chancellor Scholz recently noted, has no intention of quenching its thirst for its energy imports from the Kremlin.

    So while the EU has reheated its 2015 proposals and waxes lyrical about diversifying gas supplies from everywhere but Russia, expanding gas storage facilities, increasing energy efficiency, and being a climate change champion – its poorest members in Eastern Europe remain hopelessly exposed to Russia’s whims.

    This is an exposure that will persist for many more winters to come.

    In this context, member states like Poland, Latvia, and Bulgaria should actively seek two key revisions to Europe’s climate change agenda. Revisions that reflect post-Ukraine realities. 

    First, the countries that are most dependent on Russian energy supplies should be granted derogations to continue operating coal powerplants as they build up their renewable energy capabilities. Even Europe’s Green Deal Tsar, Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans, acknowledges this prospect. This will help them reduce their existing dependencies, thus ensuring political autonomy and collective security.

    Second, the EU as a whole needs to give states in central and eastern Europe more flexibility in deciding their short-term energy mix. This is the only solution to helping them keep their lights on (and factories powered) while simultaneously reducing dependencies on Russian gas.

    And this mix will, for many countries, include significant dollops of nuclear power. Consistent with the EU’s recent taxonomy on sustainable activities, nuclear can provide a generational transition to achieving zero carbon economies. When it comes to gas, the cornerstone of the old Energy Union proposals – greater cross border interconnection – can help link up countries with excess power supply to their needy neighbours.

    Back in the heady days of 2015, Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič argued that the Energy Union was the “only way to transcend the so-called contradiction between ‘competitiveness’ and ‘decarbonisation’”. But Šefčovič and the EU fatally misdiagnosed the problem.

    The real contradiction isn’t between economic growth and combatting climate change. As the ongoing horrors in Ukraine illustrate, the real dilemma is about the EU having the political courage to implement an energy policy that serves and protects all its members equally. 

    Decarbonisation will remain a key priority for the EU in the long-term. However, it is time to concede that you can’t accomplish a successful European Green Deal without first achieving security of supply and price predictability.

    Climate change cannot be the only driver of Europe’s energy policy.

    Eoin Drea Dimitar Lilkov Climate Change Energy EU-Russia

    Eoin Drea

    Dimitar Lilkov

    Climate Change Cannot be the Only Driver of Europe’s Energy Policy


    22 Mar 2022

  • A touching speech by a teenage activist. An ambitious pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A breakthrough agreement by world leaders to rein in rising global temperatures. These are not the key takeaways from the recent COP26 in Glasgow, but a mishmash of the last 30 years of global summits and pledges on climate change. Perhaps this is beginning to sound familiar: the global community is on the brink of catastrophe and this year’s UN Climate Change Conference is the last chance to stop it.

    It is easy to become cynical of these international conferences, even though climate change remains one of the biggest collective problems for the international community. Was the recent COP26 summit in Glasgow any different?


    For the first time in the history of UN climate agreements, the Glasgow Climate Pact referenced ‘coal’ and confirmed the commitment of nearly 200 countries to ‘phase down’ its use. Young urbanites from Brussels or San Francisco might raise their eyebrows and shrug off this accomplishment as old news. After all, didn’t we all agree that coal is finished?

    Far from it. For all its damaging effects on the environment, coal accounts for close to 30% of global energy consumption. All fossil fuels combined make up to 80% of the global energy mix annually by providing relatively affordable and stable energy supply. Even in the EU, coal and lignite are still in everyday use; this will be a fact until at least the mid-2030s.

    Completely phasing out the likes of coal is necessary but extremely costly due to pre-existing infrastructure and energy grids. The recent Glasgow Pact commitment to limiting coal on a global scale is important, as the developing world relies mostly on fossil fuels for their energy security and economic growth. Disappointment came from China and India, who led a coalition that watered down the language and replaced ‘phase-out’ with ‘phase down’ in order to reflect their entrenched national interests.

    Divisions between Global North and Global South

    This brings us to the ongoing friction between developing and developed countries on the climate front. Warning shots came just before the Glasgow summit when the group of Like-Minded Developing Countries issued a statement criticising rich countries for pushing the universal goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. The group posits that the developed Global North should raise their own ambition, fully decarbonise by the end of this decade and ‘leave the remaining atmospheric space for the developmental rights of the developing world’. It`s true thatone of the established principles of the UNFCCC is that international actors have different capabilities and responsibilities due to their respective social and economic conditions. However, shifting the onus primarily to developed countries with the expectation that they should completely restructure their economies in less than a decade is not only impossible to achieve, but also deepens dividing lines.

    A case in point is the contested ‘loss and damage facility’ proposed by the G77+China group of developing nations, which would require rich nations to directly compensate poorer nations after severe climate events. Essentially, developed countries would be deemed as responsible for future natural disasters and stand ready to provide relief funding. This would turn into a downward spiral of endless claims and controversies between nations, with developing countries likely disincentivised to invest in adaptation measures as long as someone else is footing the final bill. Fortunately, this proposal was successfully blocked by the EU and US.

    A point should be made on the political narrative and the debate on ‘climate justice’. The transatlantic political elite should be wary not to fall into a trap of its own making, where actual progress on climate change mitigation is replaced by claims for compensation or correction of historical injustices. A good example is the Foreign Minister of the island nation of Tuvalu, who received global attention when delivering his COP26 speech knee-deep in water. This narrative feeds well into our media-generated perception of the approaching climate cataclysm, but the facts tell a different story. Scientific research shows that in the past four decades, Tuvalu registered a net increase in land area of almost 3%, despite rising sea levels. We shouldn’t undermine the fact that many countries are, indeed, suffering disproportionately from environmental degradation or rising temperatures. However, cool-headed policymakers should be equidistant from both over-exaggerated victimisation and useless online virtue signalling when addressing climate change.

    Climate urgency or climate PR? A striking image even though the island nation increased in land size. | Image source: Reuters

    Hard Truths

    What developed countries should do is finally own up to an overdue promise to create a dedicated $100 billion fund to support less wealthy nations as they develop long-term measures for climate adaptation and sustainability. Although some Western countries committed to at least double their financial support by 2025, embarrassingly, there was once again no clear breakthrough at COP26 in finalising the full climate finance pledge.

    The Glasgow summit might have left many disappointed due to the lack of ground-breaking headlines, but there were several overlooked positive spill-overs. More than a hundred nations supported the US-EU initiative on slashing methane emissions by 2030. A number of governments and automobile manufacturers joined a pledge on accelerating the transition to zero emissions from cars and vans by 2040 or earlier. We also saw a surprising joint declaration by the US and China on boosting climate cooperation over the next decade. Beijing remains an important piece in this complex puzzle, as China is the largest polluter globally (more than the US, EU, and India combined in terms of CO2 emissions). These small wins should not be underestimated and are a useful reminder of the true purpose of the COP summits.

    Perhaps our perception of these much-anticipated UN Climate Conferences should be about expectations management. The British hosts sang the usual tune by raising expectations through the roof, despite the fact that they produced only a half-baked summit. Modern media cycles and activist rallies convince us that fundamental change should happen immediately, without mentioning astronomical costs related to this change or the fact that developing countries would be denied opportunities for raising their standard of living. Citizens should not be misled. These international fora remain a lowest-common denominator affair that promise big but enable many to free-ride during a slow and painful coordination process. The important thing is that they ensure the fleet of international ships sails in the same direction and holds a steady course.

    For better or worse, this is the harsh reality of the international system.

    Dimitar Lilkov Climate Change Crisis Leadership

    Dimitar Lilkov

    COP26 in Glasgow: A Climate Cup Half Full for the International Community


    25 Nov 2021

  • Eoin Drea Maria Spyraki Climate Change Green Deal

    Thinking Talks Ep.2 with Maria Spyraki, MEP

    Multimedia - Thinking Talks

    19 Nov 2021

  • In the last six months, energy prices have skyrocketed across the continent. European governments are already announcing multi-billon euro emergency measures in order to soften the blow for citizens. One of the reasons for the price surge is the growing demand for gas from industries and for power generation across the EU, as our economies bounce back from the pandemic. At the same time, Russia has limited its natural gas exports to Europe, mostly due to its dirty political game of applying pressure to Germany for the final greenlight on Nord Stream 2. Moscow’s antics and a cold winter in Europe could lead to unheated homes and even put ‘lives at stake’. This also means that inflation will continue to grow.

    To make matters worse, the wind has literally stopped blowing in the sails of renewables – calm weather in the North Sea has meant very low renewable energy output. In parallel, the carbon price on the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) has reached a record 60 euros per tonne of CO2. Ironically, the UK is desperately turning to dirty coal in order to provide electricity to citizens and industry.

    All of this has prompted calls to speed up the EU’s transition, in order to reduce the bloc’s dependency on fossil fuels. However, before EU policy-makers push for even stronger (and costly) green commitments, it would be welcome to pause and reflect on what is actually happening.

    It is easy to get lost in all the numbers about energy and climate, but a couple of basic facts are essential.

    The first is that it takes a long time for new energy sources to displace existing ones. Unfortunately, fossil fuels are sticky and still account for 80 % of the world’s energy generation. Currently, solar, wind, and hydro are negligible chunks of the global energy mix. Even in the EU, their impact is overstated – more than half of the EU’s renewable sources are actually biomass (i.e., literally burning wood and crop waste). Not to mention that renewable energy from photovoltaics and wind is intermittent and challenging to store and transport.

    Source: Adapted from Gates, B. ‘How to avoid a climate disaster’ (2021). Original data: Smil, V., ‘Energy Transitions’ (2018)

    Second, if the EU has made the sustainable transition one of its top priorities, the rest of the world has not. The EU’s agenda on sustainability is laudable, but the bloc currently contributes less than 8 % of global CO2 emissions. Even with the hypothetical support of the US, the efforts to reverse rising temperatures by mid-century would be almost futile if the other major polluters don’t chip in.

    The harsh reality is that for every coal plant we are closing, China is opening at least three new ones per annum. The EU’s coveted mechanism to impose a carbon levy (CBAM) on third countries is not planned to fully be in force until the late 2020s. Not to mention that Brussels will need to find trusted international allies on this subject in order to avoid trade wars and ensure such a mechanism bears fruit.

    In the next decade, Europe’s energy demand is projected to increase, and we are on a risky path of making energy supply extremely volatile and costly. Regrettably, the biggest pain of this transition will be felt by the poorest households and certain middle-class families across Europe. Currently, there are more than 30 million Europeans who cannot pay their energy bills, and millions more that need to make monthly compromises in order to do so.

    Even if the EU overachieves its current climate targets by 2030, this will be a tiny dent in the global fight against carbon emissions. This doesn’t mean that the bloc should sit on its hands and do nothing. Improving air quality, reducing biodiversity loss, and building a true circular economy should remain among the priorities for European policy-makers.

    However, the biggest risk is that if the EU succumbs to all of the current green demands, the energy math simply won’t add up. We’ve decided to phase-out coal, which is needed, but in our devotion to a carbon-neutral future, we seem to have miscalculated the energy transition.

    There is growing pressure on countries to snub nuclear, even though there is scientific proof that its risks are manageable and nuclear energy does not cause more harm, when compared to other clean energy sources. Germany’s decision to decommission its nuclear plants means that the country is losing one of its major sources of carbon-free electricity, and will become even more dependent on Russian gas. The same will most likely happen in the UK and Belgium.

    This is a folly. The stigma on nuclear should be lifted and we shood collectively pool additional resources in exploring novel applications of this clean energy source. Brussels likes to see itself as the main agenda-setter on climate and environment, but the EU Treaties clearly define that sovereign member states make the ultimate decisions on their national energy mix.

    The EU needs to have a more pragmatic and targeted approach to climate change. Let’s focus not only on ambitious legislation and climate targets, but also on becoming leaders and exporters of innovative green technologies. How many more billion euros are we willing to invest in solar panels and EV batteries with low efficiency gains, most of which are produced by slave labour in China? Most importantly, how does the continent intend to guarantee stable and affordable energy supply to households and industries in the short-term?

    Try as it might, the European Union simply cannot repent for the climate sins of the rest of the world. The current energy price hike is just a precursor of the problems European politicians will have to confront in the next decade. They need to be overcome by prioritsing security of supply, innovation, and boosting the competitiveness of the European economy.

    Not by prioritising dogmas and climate grief. 

    Dimitar Lilkov is a Research Officer at the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies in Brussels. The views expressed in this piece are his own.

    Dimitar Lilkov Climate Change Energy Green Deal

    Dimitar Lilkov

    The Inherent Flaws in the EU’s Green Ambitions are Already Showing


    29 Sep 2021

  • Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, warming the planet eighty-six times as much as carbon dioxide (CO2) over a 20-year period, before decaying to CO2. While the focus to reduce climate change has rightly been placed on carbon dioxide, methane is the second most important greenhouse gas contributing to the warming experienced to date. It is also a major precursor of ground-level ozone formation, a pollutant that negatively impacts health and crop yields. Reducing methane emissions is indispensable in the fight against climate change, in line with the Paris Agreement’s goals, the European Green Deal and the EU Climate Law.

    The most important question that we must answer is: why should we act now?

    Climate actions to reduce methane are often included as ‘CO2 equivalents’ in national climate plans, like in commitments made by countries under the Paris Climate Agreement. But the impact of methane and carbon dioxide are not equivalent.

    More than half of global methane emissions stem from human activity in three sectors: fossil fuels (35%), waste (20%), and agriculture (40%). In the fossil fuel sector, oil and gas extraction, processing, and distribution account for 23%, while coal mining accounts for 12% of global anthropogenic methane emissions. In this framework, it is important to proceed with an ambitious revision of our environmental legislation, such as the Effort Sharing Regulation and the Landfill Directive.

    In the energy sector, imports account for over four-fifths of the oil and gas consumed in the EU, and most methane emissions associated with oil and gas are occurring outside EU borders. That’s why we must explore regulatory tools on fossil energy imports, develop methods with importing and partner countries to align our efforts, and secure a UN-based pathway on methane in 2021. In the meantime, we could proceed with bilateral agreements with these exporting partner countries.

    A strong, independent, and scientifically rigorous Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) system is central to address methane emissions. It is necessary to provide credible data, identify issues and efficient measures, and assess the progress achieved. A mandatory MRV system would also improve Member States’ reporting to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). A robust MRV framework requires the EU to move away from voluntary approaches and adopt binding harmonised requirements.

    Methane emissions are a global issue, and tackling their impact on the environment would require international cooperation, knowledge-building, and best-practices sharing. Given the fast development of monitoring and reporting technologies, the Independent Observatory could be a key institution in identifying and spreading innovations for MRV. Coal mines should also be covered by mandatory MRV for methane emissions, including abandoned mines.

    We also have to support the establishment of an independent international methane emissions observatory, in partnership with the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), and the International Energy Agency (IEA).

    A strong Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) programme is a critical element of the EU’s strategy to reduce methane emissions and achieve the EU climate and environment goals. The scope should cover the full supply chain of fossil gas, oil, and coal, and include biogas and biomethane to ensure that all methane leaks from the energy sector are covered. It should be flexible enough to quickly adapt and capitalise on the upcoming innovative technologies expected to deliver environmental benefits and cost reduction, such as alternatives technologies sensing methane to be mounted on mobile platforms like trucks, drones, and planes.

    In the agricultural sector, we should encourage innovation, and incentivise our industries to adopt the best practices and available technologies. We must ensure that proven, cost-efficient innovations are quickly implemented in the EU and integrated into EU agricultural policies. We must be particularly ambitious in the agriculture sector, in parallel with the Common Agricultural Policy.

    By the end of 2021, the EU should – in cooperation with sectoral experts and the Member States – develop an inventory of best practices and available technologies to explore and promote the wider uptake of innovative, mitigating actions. These actions should have a special focus on methane coming from enteric fermentation. In this regard, we have to establish a framework which incentivises and rewards farmers, along with the entire value chain and especially frontrunners, for their efforts.

    In the waste sector, the EU should continue to tackle unlawful practices and provide technical assistance to Member States and regions in order to increase the implementation of the existing legislation.We should also help the Member States and regions stabilise biodegradable waste prior to disposal and increase its use to produce climate-neutral, circular, and bio-based materials and chemicals, and divert this waste towards biogas production.

    In the review of the Landfill Directive in 2024, the EU should consider further action to improve landfill gas management, minimise its harmful climate effects, and harness any of its potential energy gains. Closure and after-care procedures of landfill cells are key to reducing leakages, taking into account the entire life cycle of landfills. We must provide specific incentives, suited to each Member State’s conditions, to ensure separate collection of bio-waste to the maximum possible extent, including by encouraging public-private sector cooperation.

    The immediate implementation of methane reduction measures on human sources of methane could reduce methane emissions by as much as 45% by 2030.  Reducing methane now will avoid nearly 0.3 C of warming by 2045. That would vastly reduce the formation of and exposure to ground-level ozone. Most importantly, according to the global methane assessment report, each year after 2040, this would prevent globally:

    – 255 000 premature deaths;

    – 775 000 asthma-related hospital visits;

    – 26 million tonnes of crop losses globally; and

    – 73 billion hours of lost labour from extreme heat.

    It is time to act now!

    Maria Spyraki is an MEP (EPP – ND Greece) – Rapporteur of the EU Strategy to reduce methane emissions.

    Maria Spyraki Climate Change Energy

    Maria Spyraki

    Reducing Methane Emissions – Time to Act Now


    02 Jul 2021

  • The EU Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) has to pass two major tests before it can come into effect. It has to withstand any challenges to its compatibility with the World Trade Organization rules. It also has to prove that it can effectively address carbon leakage and ensure a level playing field for European companies. It should not be allowed to be circumvented. This depends on the design of the CBAM and on how it is implemented.

    If the CBAM is structured to be an effective tool to prevent carbon leakage, it will have to cover a wide scope of emissions, which may negatively affect many trading partners. The endeavour to prevent circumvention may turn the CBAM into an administrative nightmare for companies and for the public institutions involved. Many more trade-offs would have to be taken into account in the design and implementation of the mechanism and these will be discussed in this paper. All of them require thorough consideration and policy choices that have been carefully thought through. The paper includes a number of policy recommendations. The CBAM is unique in the world of trade—if it is to succeed, expectations must be tempered. If the CBAM is indeed able to help to achieve climate objectives, many countries may go on to develop similar instruments of their own. However, the failure of the CBAM could have serious implications for the global trading system and EU climate policy.

    Climate Change European Union Trade

    Navigating the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism: The Dangers of Non-Compliance and Circumvention

    Research Papers

    15 Nov 2022

  • The war in Ukraine changed the geostrategic influence on the energy markets in the world, manifested mainly through the changes in the price of energy fuels and electricity and took toll of the low-carbon transition plans. Soaring energy prices have prompted governments to rethink their energy policies. Many countries – including North Macedonia – are considering ramping up fossil fuels as part of their response, but increasing fossil fuels would put the 1.5 degrees Celsius target beyond reach.

    Since October 2021, North Macedonia, forced by the sharp incline of the energy prices on the market delayed the closure of the coal-based power plants to support the energy security of the country. The energy crisis forced the North Macedonia’s Government to provide budgetary support to the energy companies, amounting 760.2 million euros so far.

    A systematic literature review has been undertaken, followed by an in-depth analysis to ascertain the extent to which the new global energy paradigm will influence the main strategic energy-related objectives of the country. The results show deviation from the decarbonisation path and the planned measures, as well as possible changes in the investment cost scenarios. Based on this analysis, three key policy recommendations are provided to get back on the decarbonisation pathway.

    The current unprecedented energy crises in Europe may be the main driver for the devaluation of the national economies, resulting with economic inflations. However, it presents a possibility for investment in renewable technologies and especially energy efficiency, therefore contributing to a sustainable green transition for North Macedonia.

    Balkans Climate Change Energy

    Decarbonising the Economy of North Macedonia


    08 Nov 2022

  • A Climate or Carbon Club has been proposed as a form of cooperation which could be established between like-minded countries sharing ambitious climate policies to encourage all others to follow suit and embark on equally grand climate measures. For the time being, this is a rather amorphous idea which needs to be converted into an effective instrument of the global climate transition. It remains unclear who could form a club, how its members could organise cooperation, what conditions would be expected from those willing to join, and what kind of instruments members could use to achieve their club’s aims. This In Brief seeks to shed some light on the concept.

    Climate Change Environment Trade

    Climate Club: The Way Forward


    25 Oct 2022

  • On 24 March 2021 the German Federal Constitutional Court issued a decision with far-reaching consequences. The court ruled that the lack of sufficient specifications for further CO2 emission reductions from 2031 onwards in the German Climate Act ran contrary to the Constitution. In so ruling, the court narrowed the scope of action available to the legislator. Just a few weeks later a Dutch court went one step further, declaring that the oil and gas company Shell had violated its human rights obligations by failing to take adequate action to curb its contributions to climate change and global warming.

    These are just two examples of the approach to climate change that has been adopted by some courts in the EU. They coincide with the EU’s very recent legislative initiatives to promote a uniform legislative package on climate change that could act as a vehicle for the European Green Deal. We are confronted with two mutually exclusive risks: regulative overreach and efforts that are too little, too late.

    This policy brief proposes a balance between them. It demands that the legislator on the European level take a proactive role, especially in a time when climate change litigation is growing exponentially. The gap between legislative intentions and actions has been left unfilled for too long, so the courts are stepping in. To tackle a contemporary issue such as climate change, we have to find a solution to the old problem of the EU’s legitimacy and the extent to which member states have leeway in developing their own climate change policy.

    Climate Change EU Institutions Green Deal

    Climate Litigation vs. Legislation: Avoiding Excessive Judicial Activism in the EU

    Policy Briefs

    22 Nov 2021

  • Our societies have been witnessing the effects of climate change, which requires a swift reaction in terms of adaptation and mitigation. The European Union (EU) presented its main instrument to address these challenges, known as the European Green Deal, in 2019. One could discuss the various measures it proposes and their applicability, but another equally important factor is how to communicate this ambitious plan to the European public.

    The Czech public does not seem to recognise that climate change will have a substantial impact on the country, their local communities, and their own lives. In order to bring about genuine change to an issue that will undoubtedly and significantly alter our lifestyles, we need to mobilise public support. This publication looks into the opportunities and challenges that the Green Deal might bring. The authors are academics, economists, environmentalists, journalists, lawyers, politicians, and practitioners and together they present a comprehensive introduction to the Green Deal debate with a special emphasis on the Czech and European middle classes. Among them, Bedřich Moldan, Luděk Niedermayer, Ivan Štefanec, Merlene Mortler, Ladislav Cabada, Soňa Jonášová, Luboš Palata, Rumiana Stoilova, Ondřej Vícha, Lucie Tungul, Arjen Siegmann, Kateřina Davidová, Tomáš Jungwirth, and Aneta Zachová.

    Climate Change Green Deal Middle Class

    The European Green Deal and the Middle Class


    30 Sep 2021