On the road to decarbonisation, let's count on gas and think about the social impacts, the Czech Republic urges the EU
An Environment Council meeting was held in Luxembourg on Wednesday 6 October 2021. EU ministers discussed selected legislative proposals of the Fit for 55 package and the recently published EU Forest Strategy. At the same time, they adopted a common EU position for the UN International Climate Conference in Glasgow. The Czech Republic was represented at the meeting by Deputy Minister of the Environment Vladislav Smrž.
The opening item of the meeting was the adoption of the EU common position for the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26), which will take place in Glasgow in early November. This meeting is to address a number of issues related to the implementation of the Paris Agreement, such as the frequency of updating signatories' greenhouse gas reduction commitments. In the end, EU ministers unanimously agreed that the Union would support five-year cycles at the Glasgow meeting.
The programme continued with a discussion on five legislative proposals, which are part of the so-called Fit for 55 package and are intended to contribute to a reduction of net greenhouse gas emissions in the EU by at least 55% by 2030 (compared to 1990). These included proposals on the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), national targets for annual Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR), the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) sector contribution, CO2 emission standards for new passenger cars, and a new social climate action fund to address the negative impacts of the proposed inclusion of buildings and road transport in the ETS, particularly on low-income groups. The ministers thus followed up on the initial exchange of views that took place at the informal meeting in Slovenia in July.
At this meeting, the Czech Republic stressed that the principles of solidarity, cost-effectiveness and technological neutrality must be preserved in the decarbonisation process. At the same time, this process must not plunge European households into energy poverty and threaten the competitiveness of Czech and European industry. In relation to the ETS, the Czech Republic highlighted in particular the role of the Modernisation Fund as a key source of funding for achieving the set objectives.
"The Czech Republic welcomes the planned increase in funding for the Modernisation Fund, while ensuring that it will continue to support natural gas projects. This is absolutely essential to ensure energy security and support Czech citizens during our transition away from coal," said Deputy Minister Smrž. The Czech Republic also drew attention to the possible social impacts of the planned extension of the ETS to the buildings and road transport sectors. "Some of the negative effects of this step should be addressed by the new Social Fund, but we are not entirely satisfied with the current proposal of the European Commission. The Fund should, for example, support investments in building renovations, but here we face the problem that vulnerable households do not usually own the property they live in," said Deputy Minister Smrž.
In the context of the EU's climate goals, a number of countries have highlighted the problem of rising energy prices and their impact on the population, with some countries presenting concrete proposals for solutions. In this respect, the Czech Republic would welcome a coordinated approach at the EU level, which would include systematic measures. This could be, for example, changes to the ETS that would allow for a better response to a possible dramatic increase in the price of emission allowances.
"A solution needs to be found quickly, as further price increases could already have an impact on most households and undermine citizens' confidence in the EU's current climate and energy policy," said Deputy Minister Smrž. The European Commission is expected to issue a Communication on this issue shortly, proposing possible solutions.
The Czech Republic has also expressed concern about the planned end to the sale of new cars with internal combustion engines from 2035, which it considers to be premature and unsystematic. In the context of the LULUCF proposal, it stressed the crucial importance of a mechanism to help cope with the consequences of the bark beetle calamity.
The Environment Council concluded the meeting with an exchange of views on the new EU Forest Strategy 2030. This strategy is primarily discussed at the Agriculture Council, but due to its overlap with the environment, the Slovenian Presidency has decided to include it on the agenda of the Environment Council.
On the sidelines of the official meeting in Luxembourg, Deputy Minister Smrž also met with a number of partners. He discussed with the Ministers of France and Sweden the current state of preparations for the Czech Presidency of the EU Council in the second half of 2022. Meetings were also held with his counterparts from Luxembourg and Estonia. Furthermore, he discussed the issue of rising energy prices with the Commission's climate representatives.
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