President of the European Commission Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen is confident EU member countries, including Cyprus, can and will implement the European Green Deal.
In an interview with Phileleftheros, she also said that the bloc simply cannot afford the rising costs of climate change.
And that extreme weather events are happening all over the globe more and more often, giving as an example Cyprus where the worst wildfires in decades ravaged the country in the beginning of the summer.
Here is the full report:
What’s on the European Green Deal and why does the EU need it so much? Do you think the Green Deal will be implemented or will member states put obstacles in the way?
Now is the time to act for our planet, and for ourselves. We simply cannot afford the rising costs of climate change. Extreme weather events are happening all over the globe more and more often, look at Greece and Italy, look at Algeria now. And unfortunately you know it too well, here in Cyprus, where the worst wildfires in decades ravaged the country in the beginning of the summer.
The European Green Deal aims to help Europe adapt to the inevitable impact of climate change and to protect populations, stop global warming and develop a new growth strategy, one that is moving towards a new, decarbonised circular economy.
What we presented on July 14 is a roadmap, sector by sector, to achieve the green transition. With a wave of energy renovation throughout Europe, for example. A more sustainable management of our forests. A transport sector that contributes fully to our efforts to combat climate change.
At the centre of this strategy, we have chosen carbon pricing as a clear, market-based policy instrument, with social compensation. And the principle is simple: emission of CO2 must have a price – a price on CO2 that incentivises consumers, producers and innovators to choose clean technologies, to go towards clean and sustainable products. At the same time, we will help the more vulnerable households financially, to ensure that they are not penalised by these changes and can adapt like everyone else.
I am confident we can and will implement the European Green Deal. All 27 Member States and the European Parliament have democratically agreed on our climate targets. Our European Green Deal therefore is based on powerful democratic legitimation. Now, let’s deliver, together.
The Covid 19 crisis led to an unprecedented suspension of economic activity and the temporary disruption of particularly polluting sectors. While the health crisis appeared to have a positive impact on the environment, the need to revive the European economy may lead member states to question previous climate commitments. How will you ensure that the member states do what is necessary to implement Green Agreement?
In addition to our binding climate targets, which all Member States agreed on, there is a wide consensus that we simply cannot go back to the way it was before the pandemic. This crisis highlighted our vulnerabilities, our dependencies. It made us understand that, more than ever, we needed a new growth model. This is what the European Green Deal is about.
We have the roadmap and we also have the resources. Each Member State will get unprecedented levels of EU financial support to achieve the green transition. Cyprus is set to receive EUR 2.5 billion under the EU budget, including the cohesion funds and the Just Transition Fund, as well as NextGenerationEU, Europe’s recovery plan. This will allow for significant investments in the greening and the decarbonisation of the Cypriot economy.
41% of the NextGenerationEU in Cyprus will support our climate targets with investment in energy efficiency and renewables, sustainable mobility and clean vehicles. And I’m also very glad that you chose to invest in the prevention and fight against natural disasters, notably forest fires. This is far-sighted.
I am confident Member States will support the strategy, precisely because it brings together two imperatives that they all face: ensuring growth and prosperity, and protecting the planet. One no longer goes without the other.
We are experiencing a huge pandemic that is challenging our economic and social model. Will EU’s Green Deal strengthen efforts to find a way out of the economic crisis? There are experts who argue that European citizens will have to pay a high price in this way. What is your response?
Poorer citizens are unfortunately the first victims of climate change. When an extreme weather event occurs, they can’t afford to rebuild and move. So it is with our most vulnerable citizens’ interests in mind that we drafted our European Green Deal proposals.
The green transition has to be fair and socially just. Our EUR 72 billion Social Climate Fund will support people with small incomes and investments in clean technologies. The goal is precisely to cut energy bills for vulnerable households and small businesses. The fund will support citizens in Cyprus to finance sustainable cooling systems, install solar panels on their houses, for example, or to buy a cleaner car.
And the Social Climate Fund will start one year before the ETS on buildings and transport, to make sure that social compensation for small incomes is already in place. This will help ensure that the transition is fair and leaves no one behind, which is our utmost priority.
The European Commission recently presented a proposal for a €750 billion programme European Recovery Fund to support the European economy and accompany its transformation towards a more digital and sustainable development model. What would be the conditions for a real green recovery in Europe?
Indeed, the EU supports the transition to a more climate-friendly and more sustainable growth with around EUR 500 billion from the EU budget alone. National budgets are investing heavily as well.
But a real green recovery in Europe needs everyone on board. All sectors of the economy have to contribute their fair share – which is why our proposals set higher climate ambitions for sectors where emissions are not decreasing, in particular transport.
And we have to have industry on our side. This is actually increasingly the case. European businesses have understood that being competitive now means also being clean and that this creates new markets and huge economic opportunities. So European enterprises are already driving the green transition. They develop clean new technologies and products and in doing so they create sustainable, local and well-paid jobs across Europe. With the European Green Deal package, we deliver something industry has been asking for a long time: clear direction, clear targets, clear dates. Stability and predictability for their investments.
What role can Cyprus play in meeting the EU’s renewable energy targets? What contribution can it make to a genuine Green European Union?
Of course Cyprus has tremendous potential in renewables. For Cyprus, a much higher share of renewables would mean more environmentally friendly energy, but also substantially cheaper. It would reduce fossil fuels imports, which would be very beneficial. The EU is at your side and can help you build such renewable-centred electricity system.
So you can really lead the way, by stepping up your efforts, accelerating the roll-out of renewables and setting higher targets. At the moment, the Cypriot Energy plan aims for a 23% share of energy from renewable sources in 2030. But the potential for solar photovoltaic and onshore wind leaves room for bigger ambitions! We are confident that Cyprus can raise this share of renewable to -at least- 33% by 2030, on par with the continent’s average. And of course, the European Union would help you get there.
How will the European Union convince other countries to accelerate their efforts to save the planet? What good is it if Europe goes green and the rest of the world continues to pollute?
I believe that the rest of the world is also waking up to the facts that the cost of non action against global warming is rising dramatically. Deadly temperatures in Canada and melting permafrost in Siberia, for example. This is also true for China. One of China’s largest industrial regions is currently swamped by floods. People in the metropolises no longer want to put up with the toxic smog. China wants climate protection too.
With the European Green Deal, Europe is leading the way. And leading by example is paying off. Since we committed to climate neutrality by 2050, we have seen others make new or similar commitments, from the USA to Japan, South Korea and China.
Because as you rightly point out, to save the climate, we need the world. We need all major economies to take their responsibility and to turn the transition into an opportunity for all. Climate neutrality should be a global benchmark.
If others follow our lead, the world will be able to keep warming below 1.5 degrees celsius and comply with our obligations under the Paris Agreement. We are encouraging all other countries that have ambitious climate goals to also come with a clear roadmap on how to achieve them. That is the spirit in which we will approach the UN’s COP-26 climate conference in Glasgow this autumn. Let us work together on a shared commitment and joint action for reducing emissions by 2030. And then aim for net-zero emissions by 2050. That is what our planet needs.
How do you asses the efforts of Cyprus as far as climate change, digitalization and the Recovery Plan? Having in mind, among other things, that Cyprus has to deal with Turkey’s aggressiveness.
The EU, and in particular the European Commission, shares with Cyprus a special bond. My cooperation with President Anastasiades is excellent and, as I said during my visit to Nicosia, I believe we can team up for a lasting recovery and a better future for Cyprus and the Cypriot people.
We need Cyprus fully with us in the fight against climate change. In this regard, more efforts are needed in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Cyprus total greenhouse gas emissions have increased by more than 60% since 1990. Our European Green Deal will assist Cyprus in achieving its revised 2030 target of -32% below 2005 levels under the Effort Sharing Regulation. This is so important for our common future. Your recovery plan under NextGenerationEU will help you get there. It is a solid plan, designed here in Cyprus. And it will spur growth that will deeply improve, modernise and transform the Cypriot economy.
It will also help Cyprus embrace the digital transition. I commend the digital ambition of your recovery plan, which will invest in high-speed broadband, more efficient and accessible healthcare and public services, and digital skills. So that people of all ages can get the skills needed for the jobs of the future.
Finally, I would like to ask a few questions about the coronavirus pandemic. The coronavirus has caused a huge economic and health crisis for the member states of European Union. Initially, you personally and Stella Kiriakidou were heavily criticised in your handling of the crisis. What mistakes were made and what lessons has the EU learned? What does the EU intend to do to be better prepared for the next time a new pandemic occurs?
No one was prepared for such a pandemic. But we can be proud of what we have achieved. We convinced Member States that acting in a coordinated way was the only way to come out of the crisis together and to protect our citizens. And eventually, the EU and Member States have pulled each other through the crisis. We restored the single market, after we saw border blockades in the beginning. Today our vaccination campaign is a success, we are among the world leaders in terms of vaccination rates, while sharing half of our production with other countries. No other country has done this to this extent. We developed a European digital certificate in record time to enable millions of European citizens to travel freely in summer.
Of course we have learned what worked well and also where we could do better in the future. We must now turn these lessons into changes. This is why that is why we have made proposals for a real EU Helath Union, that maximises the benefits at EU level of joint preparedeness and response to health crises. I also convened the Global Health Summit in Rome last May, together with Prime Minister Draghi of Italy. Because one of the key lesson was that a global pandemic needs a global answer.
The G20 and its partners agreed on the important Rome Declaration, our roadmap to prevent and deal with major health crises in the future. For example, everyone will set up an efficient monitoring system, and they will be interoperable. So information can circulate a lot quicker.
We will continue vaccinating the world through COVAX and will keep a close eye on variants. We are setting up structures to be able to adapt vaccines to new variants, when needed, at large industrial scale.
And finally, because exporting vaccines won’t be enough in the long-term, we are supporting our partners all over the world in ramping up their own vaccine manufacturing capacities. For example, we are currently investing in vaccine production by the Institut Pasteur in Dakar, Senegal. With all this, we can help overcome this pandemic – and avoid others!