The Union of the Electricity Industry (EURELECTRIC), representing 3500 companies across Europe, released a statement on April 5, pledging that no new coal-fired plants will be built in the EU after 2020. “The European electricity sector believes that achieving the decarbonisation objectives agreed in the Paris Agreement is essential to guarantee the long-term sustainability of the global economy. EURELECTRIC’s members are committed to delivering a carbon neutral power supply in Europe by 2050, and to ensuring a competitively priced and reliable electricity supply throughout the integrated European energy market.” Poland and Greece remain outside the agreement, and apparently outside the mainstream.
The Guardian calls the EU position a “death knell for coal”, and in a separate piece, summarizes the decline of coal-fired electricity around the world. “Coal in ‘freefall’ as new power plants dive by two-thirds” (March 22) quotes a new report by Greenpeace , Sierra Club USA, and Coalswarm : Boom and Bust 2017: Tracking The Global Coal Plant Pipeline. Its findings show a 62 percent drop in new construction starts, and an 85 percent decline in new Chinese coal plant permits. A senior Greenpeace official states: “2016 marked a veritable turning point”. “China all but stopped new coal projects after astonishing clean energy growth has made new coal-fired power plants redundant, with all additional power needs covered from non-fossil sources since 2013. Closures of old coal plants drove major emission reductions especially in the U.S. and UK, while Belgium and Ontario became entirely coal-free and three G8 countries announced deadlines for coal phase-outs.”
The Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada was announced as a “done deal” in Ottawa on September 26, despite the fact that the text had never been made public till that time.
The agreement abolishes almost all tariffs and reduces many non-tariff barriers, but most controversial is the chapter on investment protection, which includes Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions. The ISDS mechanism gives foreign corporations the ability to sue Canada or a province, if the companies allege that domestic health or environmental policies and regulations interfere with their right to make a profit.
The Council of Canadians has been a vocal opponent of CETA because of these ISDS provisions and released a new book in November. Trading away Democracy (co-published by a number of other organizations, including Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Canadian Union of Public Employees, European Federation of Public Service Unions, Friends of the Earth Europe).
The International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development in Geneva has published a detailed review which includes a summary of the Environment and Labour chapters of the CETA . The article points out a departure from past trade agreements such as NAFTA: disputes under the Environment or Labour chapters cannot be initiated by civil society, but only by a government- to -government mechanism specifically defined in each chapter. See “Unpacking the EU Canada Free Trade Deal” in Bridges (Nov. 3).
On October 24, members of the European Union reached agreement on new emissions targets for 2030: 40% cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, 27% target for the renewable energy market share and, an optional target of 27% increase for energy efficiency improvement. The EU is holding up the agreement as a model for other countries in advance of the Paris climate talks of 2015, though like all politically-driven compromises, it has its critics. According to Greenpeace EU: “People across Europe want cleaner energy, but EU leaders are knocking the wind out of Europe’s booming renewables sector”, and from the European Green Party, “It is shameful that the council gave veto power against better goals to Poland on renewables, to France on interconnectors, and to the UK on efficiency. […] We used to have a polluter-pays-principle; now we’ve gotten a polluter-vetos-principle”.
After hard-fought negotiations, the members of the European Union finally agreed on January 22 to a compromise Framework proposal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030, compared with 1990 levels, and a goal of producing 27% of all energy from renewable sources by 2030. The European carbon emissions trading system (EUTS) will be reformed, and the goal of improving energy efficiency by 25% by 2030 will be an “indicative target”, not legally binding. Fracking will also be governed by non-binding recommendations rather than regulation. Most significantly for Canada, the Fuel Quality Directive will not be renewed after its expiry in 2020 – a move away from the support of biofuels, and which might allow for Alberta oil to enter the European fuel supply chain. The Canadian government has lobbied actively for such a change.
Environmental groups disagree with the positive spin: according to the Friends of the Earth Europe, the negotiators “…seem to have fallen for the old-think industry spin that there must be a trade-off between climate action and economic recovery. This position completely ignores the huge financial cost of dealing with the impacts of climate change and the €500 billion the EU is spending every year on oil and gas imports”. (at: https://www.foeeurope.org/2030_climate_energy_plan_220114). About fracking, the FOE had this to say: “… attempts to regulate the fracking industry have been undermined by heavy corporate lobbying and pressure from certain member states intent on fracking their lands.” … “With the heavy support from José Manuel Barroso, the United Kingdom, Poland, and Romania have all played a leading role in undermining shale gas legislation, with allies Hungary, Lithuania, Czech Republic and Slovakia.” See https://www.foeeurope.org/shale_gas_framework_220114. An article in The Guardian (Jan. 14) offers a detailed analysis of the significant role played by the U.K. to weaken the fracking regulations (see at: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jan/14/uk-defeats-european-bid-fracking-regulations).
A study commissioned by the European Commission has concluded that Europe’s cap-and-trade program has not caused industry to relocate to countries without greenhouse gas regulation in a process known as “carbon leakage”. In a series of sectoral “factsheets”, the report presents historical data on the structure, performance, and competitiveness of sectors (including iron and steel, chemicals, paper, cement, refined petroleum) and assess the degree to which carbon leakage may have occurred. Although the study found that no companies left Europe for unregulated territory between 2005 and 2012, the authors indicate they suspect this may change.