A handful of policies risk derailing the European Union’s ambitious climate goals, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said in a report published on Monday, days before the European Commission is expected to publish its own assessment.
Among WWF’s ‘hall of shame’ of the EU’s worst measures for the climate are the failure to tax aviation fuels and the inclusion of gas and nuclear in the so-called sustainable finance taxonomy, the EU’s green investment rulebook.
The report also claims the EU’s bioenergy policies and parts of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) are inconsistent with its climate goals. Despite recognising good progress on climate action in recent years, WWF is calling on the EU to take a “good hard look” at its policies and address potential “loopholes”.
“If we are to keep global temperature rise to 1.5°C, all EU policies should be pulling in the same direction. At the moment it is as if the EU is insulating its roof with the windows open,” Michael Sicaud-Clyet, Climate & Energy Policy Officer at WWF European Policy Office, said.
The European Commission, which aims to spearhead the global fight against climate change, will publish an assessment on Wednesday of whether its policies are consistent with achieving climate neutrality by 2050 and adapting to the impacts of climate change, as required under the EU climate law.
A European Commission spokesperson said that the executive is committed to using “all available tools to move away from high carbon-emitting energy sources.”
“Loopholes” in EU policies
One of the most contentious of the EU’s climate policies is the sustainable finance taxonomy, a list of economic activities eligible for sustainable investments which controversially includes gas and nuclear power plants.
The Commission believes there is a role for private investment in gas and nuclear activities in the green transition, and says these activities are time-limited and dependent on specific conditions and transparency requirements.
“Renewables have absolute priority in the Taxonomy. But where nuclear and gas power can help accelerate the required change in the next decades, we should not miss the opportunity,” the European Commission spokesperson said.
But WWF warns this could have substantial ramifications, affecting EU budgets, state aid and green public procurement, and will divert investments from low-carbon technologies. The Commission is facing five lawsuits at the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice for the inclusion of gas and nuclear under the taxonomy.
The EU is also failing to ensure heavy industry covers the costs of its environmental damage, the report says. Industry continues to receive a share of its emission allowances for free under the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS). This means big polluters will receive an estimated €460 billion in allowance between 2021 and 2030, according to WWF.
The environmental NGO also says that the bloc’s failure to impose levies on commercial aviation fuel is another missed opportunity to put the brakes on climate change. EU policies currently prohibit the taxation of commercial aviation fuel, except for commercial domestic flights or by bilateral agreement between member states.
Wopke Hoekstra, the newly appointed EU climate chief, surprised EU lawmakers in early October when he vowed to drum up global support for a levy on aviation fuels. Speaking before the European Parliament in October, he called the absence of a tax on aviation fuel “the biggest absurdity of all”.
“When I drive a car to the service station, 50% to 60% of what I pay at the pump is tax. However, if a jet is refuelled, there are no taxes at all – zero. Which European thinks it would make sense not to act in accordance with the polluter pays principle in the case of Kerosene?” he said.
Climate emergency ‘hitting’ farmers
Loopholes in the EU’s agriculture and land use policies also need to be addressed, says WWF, to spare the farming industry, which is at risk of being hit by the climate crisis “harder and earlier” than other sectors.
The EU’s Renewable Energy Directive currently incentivises farmers to use land for biofuel, biogas and other energy crops, when that land could be used to provide the calorie needs of millions of people, or for emission-cutting carbon sequestration or solar farms projects.
A study released earlier this year by NGO Transport and Environment suggested Europe wastes the land the size of Ireland for bioenergy.
The EU’s landmark Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) also requires a “dramatic shift” if it is to be aligned with the “reality of the climate emergency”, the WWF report says. European farmers continue to receive payments for emissions-emitting activities including the cultivation of drained organic soils and livestock farming.
Farming communities’ fierce opposition to EU environmental policy has created ripples in parliaments in Brussels and European capitals, with right-leaning lawmakers claiming farmers are bearing the brunt of green policies. The impact of climate policies on agriculture is set to shape upcoming elections in Europe, including the June 2024 European elections.