Wednesday 9 December 2009

COP15 Interview with Bairbre de Brún MEP

My lastest post on the Think About It platform is an email interview with MEP Bairbre de Brún on the role of the European Parliament in the climate change talks and on where the EU should go when it comes to climate change policy. You can read the post on the Th!nk2 platform here.

Bairbre de Brún is one of my constituency MEPs; she's a member of the party Sinn Féin in Ireland, and sits with the United Left group in the European Parliament. In the European Parliament she sits on the Environmental Committee (ENVI) and is part of the European Parliament's delegation to the Copenhagen conference. She agreed to an email interview with me; so a big thanks to her for taking the time out during such a busy period to answer my questions. Here's the interview:


1. The European Parliament's Environment Committee might not feature strongly in the public's imagination when it comes to the COP15 Conference, the main image of which consists of heads of state and government. What role had the Committee played in the run up to the Conference? Has it done enough?

I believe the Environment Committee, and before it, the Temporary Committee on Climate Change, has played an important role in the run up to Copenhagen.

Legally, of course, the governments and the Commission are kings but the European Parliament has succeeded in applying pressure for them to go further than they would have otherwise. The EP passed last month an ambitious albeit imperfect resolution which called for a legally binding deal at Copenhagen and action on emissions reductions and finance: the resolution stated that recent scientific data indicates that an emission reduction of at least 40 % is required; calls for those reductions to be domestic;’  However, it stopped short of repeating recent calls for a long-term reduction target of 80-95% and instead ‘ recalls that a long-term reduction target should be set for the EU and the other developed countries of at least 80 % by 2050 compared to 1990 levels". It also stated that ‘the collective contribution of the EU towards developing countries' mitigation efforts and adaptation needs should not be less than €30 billion per year by 2020’.

This type of political pressure is important and it also gives citizens a yardstick by which they can measure the achievement of the summit. The EP can also help pave the way for an ambitious deal through its contacts and visits with legislative bodies in China and the US for example. This role goes back a long way and was important also in Poznan and Bali and before.

2. It looks like a binding deal at COP15 is impossible, or at least highly unlikely. If a binding deal can't be reached, should the EU commit to a 30% reduction in emissions in any case?

The EU should not use the excuses of others as an excuse not to forge ahead by itself if necessary. The European Parliament has recognised ‘ that recent scientific data indicates that an emission reduction of at least 40 % is required; calls for those reductions to be domestic’

The science is clear that we need to cut emissions now! A global deal is the preferable way for all to do so but in its absence blocs like the EU have a responsibility to continue on the road to where we know we need to go regardless of the reluctance of others.

Even from an economic point-of-view an EU which progresses towards the green economy of tomorrow will be in the medium- and long-term in an extremely advantageous situation compared to those who cling on to the old dirty economy of yesterday too long.

We must also continue to push for a legally binding deal in Copenhagen, one that is strong enough to tackle the challenge of climate change while being just and fair to developing countries.


3. The US Congress has proven to be very slow and conservative on reaching agreement on a climate change bill. As a member of the Environment Committee, do you sense that the Committee and Parliament as a whole are willing to take the necessary legislative action to live up to the EU's green rhetoric?


The US needs to be part of any global deal and having recently travelled there as part of an official European Parliament Environment Committee delegation I can say categorically that there has been a change in attitude since the Obama administration took over. However the complexities of the US lawmaking process mean that much may remain unclear about the exact figures the US will commit to for both emissions reductions and for financing at Copenhagen. The House of Representatives has passed climate legislation but the Senate now looks unlikely to do so before the end of the year.

To date my experience has been that the EP and the environment committee in particular has been the most progressive institution out of the three bodies (Council and Commission being the other two) when it comes to environmental legislation. Therefore I think it is necessary to ask the question of the governments: are they ready to back their rhetoric.

Having said that the European Parliament could also go further than it has in my view. 

4. There have been rumblings over a possible EU environmental tax policy (concerning VAT). What would be your position on changing the VAT rules to make VAT a "greener" tax?


Sinn Féin opposes EU control over taxation as the ability to set the rates of taxation is a core element of sovereignty. Therefore if any new proposal amounted to increased EU powers over taxation we would be opposed.

Notwithstanding the above, the party is supportive of the introduction of some form or forms of revenue neutral (ie intended to engineer changes in behaviour, and ensuring that the state does not become reliant on them as a source of public funds) environmental taxation so long as these have progressive features (ie do not have disproportionate impact on those least able to pay or least able to change their behaviour), together with other simultaneous or advance supports for behavioural change. 

5. Developing environmental industries and projects seems to require a lot of assistance or intervention from the state, and the Commission has promised to use the Social Fund to fight the recession in a “Green” way. Is the Commission doing enough? Should the Social Fund be increased or expanded to invest in Green projects? Should the European Investment Bank take up the task instead, or as well, if at all?


The EIB does have a role to play in providing credit to eco-innovation, and the environment is one of the EIB priorities.

The Commission has also taken some initiatives but the transition to a ‘green economy’ must be much more centre stage.  This will involve the Structural Funds but must also involve a green skills and green jobs strategy. Member States must also play their part.

R+D will be crucial in the time ahead.  There needs to be structured and co-ordinated review of how the ‘green economy’ will be integrated across the range of policy measures and instruments.


6. What are your ambitions for environmental legislation during this parliamentary term?


I would expect further legislation regarding climate change to deal with the post-Copenhagen situation and also to deal with adaptation within the EU.  It will also be important to see further measures on biodiversity and ecosystems. In the immediate term timely and proper implementation of existing legislation will be crucial.

I also expect further measures in terms of sustainable transport, although these may involve a number of European Parliament committees.



It's encouraging to hear such a strong call for binding targets, especially after the leaked Danish Text came to light. While I think the EU should forge ahead with tougher emissions cuts whatever the outcome at Copenhagen, I have spoken with people who believe in holding back on more extensive cuts for a better bargaining position (either for Copenhagen itself or, if a good deal isn't achieved, for the follow-up talks). I wonder what the opinion is out there on what the EU's strategy should be?

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