At a debate organised by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), experts and civil society representatives met to discuss pros and cons of the European Commission's recently presented package of climate, transport and energy proposals.
Combining advanced legislation in transport and energy with a view to improving climate but without forgetting the social dimension: this is the declared objective of the Commission's Fit for 55 legislative package, which the Section for Transport, Energy, Infrastructure and the Information Society (TEN) discussed in detail on 10 September 2021, assessing opportunities and challenges for the transport, energy and construction sectors in building a more resilient future for the European Union.
The European Commission's Fit for 55 is an ambitious EU decarbonisation package. The next steps are execution and implementation of decarbonisation to meet mutually reinforcing climate policies, said TEN president Baiba Miltoviča.
However, at the same time, we cannot forget society's most vulnerable. The increase in the price of fossil fuels is already a reality of the energy market in EU Member States and will have significant social and distributional impacts that may disproportionately affect vulnerable consumers, who spend a larger part of their incomes on energy and transport. There are certain regions where there is no access to alternative, affordable mobility and transport solutions. When working on these legislative proposals, the EESC needs to combine climate and social justice in a just transition perspective. It is our duty to think about people in vulnerable situations and energy poverty and to assist them with different instruments such as the National Recovery and Resilience Plans.
Presenting the package, Stefanie Hiesinger, Member of the Cabinet of the European Commission's Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans, noted that the ultimate goal was to expand the climate objectives and reduce emissions by 55% by 2030, so as to achieve a completely climate-neutral EU by 2050:
We press fast-forward to reach our targets and we equip ourselves with the right tools to deliver on our commitment.
Organised in three round tables – on transport, energy and the building sector – the event brought together experts as well as representatives of the European institutions and civil society.
Reducing transport emissions
Transport is one focus of the package: it is a sector whose emissions remain higher than in 1990 and which faces the huge challenge of reducing emissions by 90% by 2050 in order to achieve climate neutrality. Setting the scene for the first debate, moderator Stefan Back, TEN section vice-president and president of the Thematic Study Group on Transport, noted:
The question is now whether Fit for 55 is a great challenge for a viable future or a breakneck project. For the time being, we see a prospect of rising costs due to ETS obligations, rising energy taxes and the risk that alternative fuels might in the end turn out to be costly because there are not enough of them.
Pierpaolo Settembri of the European Commission's DG MOVE pointed out that the functioning of the Single European Transport Area was key, and that greening mobility was the new licence for the transport sector to grow sustainably.
Thomas Reynaert, from Airlines for Europe agreed with this analysis, noting that the two top priorities for aviation were recovery of the sector, which was in deep crisis, and the commitment to sustainability, underlining that a possible path to decarbonisation included new technologies, improved air navigation and green fuels.
For his part, Frits de Groot, representing BusinessEurope and the Dutch federation of employers VNO‑NCW, added that European businesses firmly supported the new package because it was coherent: investment and infrastructure were vital for both companies and consumers.
Robin Loos of the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) added that accessibility and affordability for consumers were very important and that developing sustainable sectoral policies would greatly benefit both consumers and the environment.
Renewing our energy systems
Energy production and use of energy currently account for 75% of EU emissions.
Without renewing our energy system we will not be able to reach the Green Deal targets and climate neutrality by 2050. Accelerating the transition to a greener energy system and getting rid of fossil-based systems are crucial, said Simo Tiainen, president of the Thematic Study Group on Energy, who moderated the second panel.
Łukasz Koliński of the Commission's DG ENER said that current EU energy laws were already citizen-centred and focused on renewables, and that this boded well for the future. Ivan Faucheux of the French Energy Regulatory Commission (CRE) mentioned careful use of hydrogen as an option for the energy transition.
Jytte Guteland, Member of the European Parliament and rapporteur for the Report on the European Climate Law, said she would like the EU to play a prominent role at the upcoming COP26 climate meeting in Glasgow and urged the Commission to use the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) as the most effective tool to deliver on its commitment.
Charles Esser, representing the Council of European Energy Regulators (CEER), stressed that the principle of energy efficiency was key in terms of both consumer awareness about consumption and of avoiding losses in weak electricity networks.
Improving housing efficiency
The planned tightening of the 2030 reduction target will have distributional implications: on the one hand between industry and households and on the other between richer and poorer households. EESC member Dumitru Fornea, who moderated the final panel, emphasised:
Distribution in particular is still a pending issue. Heating and hot water are basic needs that cannot be left to the market, where only the rich can afford them. The same applies when people have no other choice than to use their car to go to work because of limited public transport.
Serena Pontoglio of the European Commission's DG ENER noted that buildings represent the largest energy consumer in the EU, accounting for approximately 40% of energy use and 36% of energy‑related greenhouse gas emissions. This explained why the building sector should be a key target for joint decarbonisation efforts.
Marc Pigeon, representing Build Europe, pointed out that the housing problem in Europe stemmed from a problem of affordability and that it was important to help citizens deal with increasing costs, although political ambitions did not always measure up here.
Julien Dijol of Housing Europe explained that a uniform legislative approach in housing was risky and had to be avoided: for example, imposing the same compulsory renovation rate in Member States which had completely different situations could have serious consequences for people on low incomes.
Finally, Guillaume Joly of the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) said that it was time to accelerate and make housing retrofit more convenient for all consumers, and that renovation one-stop shops had to offer support and not just information.
Background – What is the Fit for 55 package?
The Fit for 55 package is a set of comprehensive and interconnected legislative proposals relating to climate, transport and energy, presented by the European Commission in July 2021 and designed to ensure that EU legislation is in line with EU climate goals.
The objective is to provide a coherent and balanced framework that is fair and socially just, maintains and strengthens innovation and the competitiveness of EU industry, and supports the EU's leading position in the global fight against climate change. The title refers to the EU's commitment to cut emissions by at least 55% by 2030.