28 june 2019

[4C Note: We received the following column from the FT in an email this morning.]

Climate warriors

By Jim Brunsden, Financial Times June 28, 2019

For the masses of people who have taken to the streets over recent months to call for climate change to be at the top of the EU’s agenda, July 1 will be a good day.

At the start of next month, Finland will assume the EU’s rotating presidency, giving it considerable power to steer the bloc’s work over the coming six months.

It will do so with a government that has a national climate target of unparalleled ambition: full carbon neutrality (so zero net carbon emissions) by 2035. It is also a country in which some of the grandest offices of state, including the posts of foreign minister and interior minister, are in the hands of green politicians.

The government’s sense of environmental urgency reflects that of Finland’s voters. In elections earlier this year, the country’s Green League party increased its number of seats by a third.

The question now is how far that environmental momentum can be carried to the European level, where Finland is hoping to broker a unanimous agreement on a 2050 climate neutrality target for the EU.

Krista Mikkonen, the country’s environment minister, told reporters on Thursday that her government “is committed to reforming Finnish and EU climate policies”. The EU “must lead” on fighting climate change, she said.

But that means winning over sceptics.
The 2050 goal has run into opposition from the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, who refused to endorse the target at an EU summit last week, citing economic and social concerns. Estonia also withheld its support from a joint text.

Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters at the time that his country “must first have a very detailed compensation package. We must know how much we can get for modernisation.”

That difficult discussion is also bound up with the ongoing negotiations on the EU’s next seven-year budget, a tortuous process that Helsinki has said it will try to bring to a close by the end of this year, but that most suspect will run into 2020.

Mikkonen said the EU would have to find a way to balance competing needs. She noted that, while some countries want assistance to cushion the economic blow of cracking down on polluting industries, others, such as Greece, Spain and Portugal have already experienced the catastrophic effects of climate change in the form of deadly wildfires, and so need Europe’s solidarity.

There is some hope: Tomasz Dąbrowski, Poland’s undersecretary of state for energy, told the FT Energy Transition Strategies Conference in London on Thursday that his country will “probably” support the target, adding that: “we need to know what the cost will be, and in what way we can mitigate the social impact of the whole transformation.”

Finland is already warning that there are high political stakes for the EU if it does not deliver.

The country’s foreign minister, Pekka Haavisto, said on Thursday that the 2050 goal was central to the EU’s credibility, and so to its ability to persuade other “global partners who are still reluctant to do their part”.

But Helsinki also acknowledges that agreeing the target will be just the beginning.

Noting that Finland has not yet worked up a detailed strategy for meeting its 2035 target, economy minister Katri Kulmuni said: “There is the vision, and now we are making the roadmap over the next four years.”

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