Environment, climate change and energy
From Copenhagen to Cancun and from Durban to Warsaw, the European United Left/Nordic Green Left Group has been active in all the major international climate change conferences. But it has also fought battles on issues such as renewable energies, a ban on genetically modified organisms, the public management and ownership of water, environmentally friendly waste management, and more recently against fracking.
Time is running out for strong measures to tackle climate change across all EU policy areas. At the global level the GUE/NGL works for ambitious targets to tackle climate change and measures to help developing countries cope with global temperature increases. We must protect Europe's biodiversity and champion renewable energy. We believe our future lies in wind power, wave power, and solar energy, not dirty polluting industries.
GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS (GMOs)
After the Commission approved the licensing for commercial cultivation throughout the EU of the genetically modified potato Amflora using a written procedure - avoiding debate and bypassing a proposed new framework on GM authorisations - the GUE/NGL requested the addition of the issue to the agenda of the March 2010 Plenary Session in Strasbourg saying that the Commission was defying European public opinion that is opposed to the cultivation of GMOs, and showing its indifference to the consequences for public health, the environment and conventional crops.
Some months later, the group reacted favourably to a report giving the possibility to member states to ban or restrict the cultivation of GMOs on their territories, although it would have preferred a total ban.
In a written question on GMO policy, GUE/NGL MEPs asked the European Commission if it would propose strong and binding legislation to clearly regulate the coexistence of GM and non-GM crops following a European Court of Justice ruling that said food products such as honey and other foods containing traces of GMOs should be considered "food produced from genetically modified organisms".
WATER – A PUBLIC ASSET
On the occasion of World Water Day each year, the group reiterates its belief that the management and ownership of water should remain in public hands and not be governed by market or competition rules. GUE/NGL's fight to keep water as a public and universal asset is a long-standing one and in March 2011, a European Parliament written declaration on the issue, initiated by GUE/NGL, collected a total of 226 signatures.
BIO FUELS & LAND USE
The group welcomed a vote in the environment committee when MEPs backed a positive and sustainable proposal on indirect land use change (ILUC) to bio fuel production and the promotion of using energy from renewable sources: "Regarding old bio fuels, EU production levels are to remain capped at 5.5% of the final transport consumption rate in 2020. The share of energy from advanced bio fuels shall be no less than 2.5% of the final transport consumption of energy in 2020 and energy use from renewable sources will receive a priority pathway. It is very important that both social and decent employment rights are respected in third countries and that the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities to the ownership or use of the land from which raw materials are used to produce bio fuels and bio liquids are protected. The Commission has a duty to protect these rights by ensuring they are secured and recognised in transparent agreements. This is a clear and strong statement respecting developing countries' rights that we welcome with satisfaction."
WASTE ELECTRICAL AND ELECTRONIC EQUIPMENT
During a debate on the proposed Waste and Electronic Equipment (WEEE directive), the group welcomed that the directive addressed the fact that member states and industrialised nations had been living beyond their means for many years at the expense of poorer countries. This approach can and should set an example in terms of environmental legislation. We are pleased that a collection target of 85% has been set, particularly because the Council held out stubbornly for lower targets for a long time. We also welcome the fact that solar modules are not to be excluded from the directive. It was right not to rely on a voluntary, self-imposed commitment by the manufacturers. Nonetheless, we do not agree with the way the directive deals with nanomaterials. It is essential that waste equipment containing nanomaterials should be dealt with separately. The report simply invites the Commission to investigate whether this is to continue to happen in the future. This is an extraordinarily weak formulation that is not worth a great deal. Nanomaterials can be hazardous for people and the environment during the recycling process. Some nanomaterials come with clear indicators stating that they are damaging to health. We are therefore calling on the Commission to subject nanomaterials to a detailed investigation. If it is not possible to prove conclusively that these products are not hazardous, then they should not be allowed onto the market.
Although the group agreed that the Angulo report on a proposed directive on waste management was useful and would be helpful, a number of outstanding issues needed to be addressed. First, the problem of waste is an urgent and burning issue and, second, despite the differences that obviously exist, member states are not performing satisfactorily in terms of waste management, thereby creating public health and environmental problems. Although landfill is the last resort under EU legislation, there are countries which are lagging behind in recycling and prevention and are therefore under pressure to extend existing landfills or create new ones, in breach of Community legislation and common sense, thereby causing serious problems in local communities. The Commission also needs to intervene in cases where there are obvious errors in waste management plans and environmental impact studies.
MAJOR ACCIDENT HAZARDS INVOLVING DANGEROUS SUBSTANCES
Industrial accidents with dangerous substances are a reality of our times. But this cannot be used as an excuse not to inform the public and enable people participate in decision making. The group welcomed a legislative proposal but said that companies responsible for toxic incidents must be held responsible. Information for the public and their participation in decision making is not just a right, it is a necessity: only an informed population can limit the dangers and only a population that decides to do so can protect itself from abuses. Prevention and limitation of the consequences are the first priorities. There is also a need for companies responsible for accidents due to dangerous substances to be held financially and criminally responsible, and for even more transparency.
The group considered that new legislation on the scrapping of old EU registered ships voted through by MEPs would not ensure an end to risky and polluting practices. It said the Regulation was lacking. For ship-owners it has always been the case that it is financially more interesting to ‘recycle’ ships in places where sound environmental and health safety standards are not respected. This Regulation will not solve the problem as there are no provisions for incentivizing ship-owners to follow sound ship recycling practices. Last year alone (2011) at least 265 European ships were recycled under very bad working and environmental conditions on beaches in South Asia. Unfortunately, the outcome of this vote is not sufficient for tackling this issue appropriately: we need strict rules to make dismantling on beaches impossible.
The GUE/NGL group was represented at all the major international conferences on climate change and environmental issues during this term of office:
CLIMATE & ENERGY DELEGATION TO WASHINGTON
Bairbre De Brún represented the GUE/NGL Group on this European Parliament delegation in October 2009 and was optimistic on her return when she reported: "Huge changes are underway since the Obama administration took over in terms of budget, a willingness to regulate and determination to get an international agreement on climate change."
COPENHAGEN CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE
The Group supported a European Parliament resolution which stated that EU negotiators must seek a legally binding deal in Copenhagen. The resolution called on the EU to commit at least €30 billion per year in climate funding to developing countries by 2020 in addition to overseas development aid. In an amendment tabled by the group, a reference was added that proactive adaptation actions should have priority in the most vulnerable regions. The group also asked the EU to clarify under what conditions it would strengthen its emissions targets to 40% by 2020 in keeping with the latest science.
After the talks in Copenhagen, the group expressed its disappointment and was critical of world leaders who failed to produce an agreement that would effectively tackle climate change and called on climate justice campaigners to steel their determination.
A GUE/NGL delegation went to the global conference on climate change which took place in Cochabamba, Bolivia in April 2010. Representatives from all continents were welcomed there by Bolivian President Evo Morales who called for a universal commitment to save the planet.
On its return, the delegation warned that there was a need to transform the system responsible for the economic, social and environmental crisis. "If there is no change in the current market-dominated economic model we will not be able to halt the destruction of the planet."
Kartika Liotard attended the 10th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity, held from 18 to 29 October 2010 in Nagoya, Japan. Speaking in advance of the talks she told Commissioner Potočnik that doing nothing to counter biodiversity loss will cost
$4 trillion by 2050 and called for an overhaul of EU agriculture and fisheries policy.
CLIMATE CHANGE TALKS IN CANCÚN
The group participated in the UN climate talks in Cancún (COP 16) in December 2010 and welcomed progress made there and the adoption of the Cancún Agreement while warning that much work needed to be done if the necessary ambition and necessary detail is to be achieved. "World leaders and governments need to take up the challenge now and ensure that we can have an ambitious post-2012 climate deal. Governments also need to take domestic action to alter the patterns that got us into this mess while supporting the most vulnerable countries to cope with increasing climate change damage. In the EU, that means going immediately to a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 while looking to build on that."
DURBAN CLIMATE TALKS
Prior to the Durban climate talks, Parliament voted a resolution on the climate change summit to be held from 28/11- 9/12 2011. Throwing its support behind this resolution, the GUE/NGL called on EU negotiators to indicate in advance that they would engage in a 2nd commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol.
GUE/NGL MEPs, Bairbre De Brún and Sabine Wils were in Durban for the COP17 climate change talks. While delegates in Durban agreed on a range of issues including emissions cuts and finance to help tackle climate change in developing countries, through ''an agreed outcome with legal force", GUE/NGL representatives said there was an urgent need for countries to increase the level of ambition and to add further and more binding pledges and actions to what has been agreed in Durban
UN CLIMATE SUMMIT IN DOHA
After the summit's unsatisfactory outcome, the group said the EU had discredited itself through its efforts to spare European industry from ambitious climate protection targets.
"The message Doha sends out to world is: continue with business as usual! The extension of the Kyoto Protocol, the minimum goal for Doha, doesn’t change anything. The Kyoto Protocol addresses only 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions and is riddled with loopholes. The EU more or less ignored the demands from developing countries to push for a detailed roadmap for a much-needed global climate treaty by 2015 and for the middle and long-term financing for mitigation and adaptation. Instead, some countries pledged to provide about € 7 billion over the next two years. Given the pace of ice cap melting, this is just a drop in the ocean. Millions of people are threatened by the loss of drinking water, flooding, or even the demise of their countries."
RIO +20 SUMMIT (20-22/6/2012)
After the disappointing outcome of yet another climate summit in Rio, the GUE/NGL called for the EU to stick to its ambitious plans before the summit and not descend to the level of Rio.
The purpose of the Rio Summit was to make specific agreements and guidelines on sustainable and social development and poverty reduction. Despite the high cost and the fuss, the summit has clearly not worked. Prior to the summit, Parliament emphasised the necessary measures to increase the use of renewable energies and improve energy efficiency worldwide, highlighting that this did not mean nuclear power, because that is not a sustainable source.
UN CLIMATE CONFERENCE IN WARSAW
Criticising the EU's lack of climate change policy consistency in a debate with Council and Commission ahead of November 2013's COP 19 conference in Warsaw, the group said Europe had a particular responsibility in terms of the deadlock in international negotiations on the climate change issue. Market instruments are not in a position to deal with this problem and reduce the threat to the climate. For some, climate change is a mere pretext for doing business rather than an issue of genuine concern for the future of the planet on which we live.
In addition, the IPCC's latest report provides further evidence that climate change is the result of human activity. As the majority of the world's poor are women, they will suffer the most from climate change. Drought and devastated harvests, with the resulting loss of income, reduces women's power in society as they tend to do the agricultural work in developing countries. This has a horrendous impact in places where women's power is already low.
Representing GUE/NGL in Warsaw, MEP Sabine Wils described the negotiations as a "huge setback for climate justice. Big corporations have infiltrated COP19 and are pushing for false solutions to climate change such as carbon markets, coal and CCS, shale gas, agro fuels, and nuclear. This comes at the expense of climate justice. Loss and Damage should be at the top of the agenda and real climate action is more vital than ever."
COMPETITIVE LOW-CARBON ECONOMY IN 2050
Stressing the importance of achieving a competitive yet low-carbon economy by 2050, the group was critical of the EU's lack of ambition in the field. The vote on the Roadmap for moving to a competitive low-carbon economy in 2050 is of central importance. The lack of ambition in relation to European climate protection policy threatens the sustainable development of Europe’s economy. Dirty technologies, such as nuclear power and carbon capture and storage, are impeding a change in energy policy. The EU emissions trading system has failed as an instrument for climate protection and is undermining European climate protection policy. It shows that market-based instruments are not the way to combat climate change. Long-term climate protection means identifying binding targets for renewable energies and for the reduction of greenhouse gases. Ambitious climate protection with a long-term goal of 95% greenhouse gas reduction by 2050 in comparison with 1990 levels will promote innovation and create new jobs in the area of renewable technologies.
TIMING OF AUCTIONS OF GREENHOUSE GAS ALLOWANCES
The group added its voice to the many hundreds of environmental organizations all over the world calling for an end to the carbon market, arguing that alternative solutions exist and can be implemented now. Not only does the carbon market fail to drive reduction of greenhouse gases, it is also in itself an obstacle to reductions and decreased dependence on fossil fuels. It has resulted in staggering profits for the major polluters, who acquire credits with more than dubious and perverse investments in developing countries, with re-sale of the licences granted to them free of charge. It is a system that has proved to be open to faults and fraud, such as carousel fraud in several countries, costing the billions of Euros to the public purse. Taxpayers bear the cost of the system, while profits go to the polluters. The alternative to the illusions of the market lies in a regulatory, legislated approach, effective from the perspective of environmental aims, and socially just.