The first quarter of 2024 will bring important news: proposals for the 2040 climate target, aiming to firmly set the EU on the path to climate neutrality by 2050. Additionally, the conclusions of the first-ever European climate risk assessment, currently being conducted by the Directorate-General for Climate Action (DG CLIMA) of the European Commission, together with the European Environment Agency, will be presented. The climate risk assessment will cover all sectors, including infrastructure and the energy sector. Elina Bardram, Director for Adaptation & Resilience, Communication, and Civil Society Relations at DG CLIMA, shared this information in an exclusive interview for NewsEnergy.ro.
In this interview, we discussed the importance of investments in increasing resilience to the effects of climate change, the impact of the green transition on small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and also the risks for countries that lag behind in this immense process of transforming the European economy into a zero-emission economy by 2050.
„We can’t turn back clock. Even if we resisted the change when the whole world is changing, you know those who are left behind by their own choice will be marginalized and they will become increasingly irrelevant”, said Elina Bardram.
The European official further explained what countries in the region, including Romania, can do to catch up in the green transition process and how they are assisted through EU mechanisms and instruments in this regard. Moreover, Elina Bardram was present as a speaker at the Climate Change Summit 2023, the largest event in Central and Eastern Europe dedicated to climate change, held in October in Bucharest.
We invite you to read the full interview further.
Rep: Climate adaptation is gaining importance alongside mitigation efforts. What are the main climate adaptation challenges and which steps is the European Commission taking to address these challenges and build resilience in the face of climate change?
EB: Really good question. We have, of course, the EU Adaptation Strategy, which dates to February 2021. So, we’ve been pursuing a very holistic kind of strategy to engage different sectors and to have smarter, faster, more systemic and more international adaptation actions at EU level, but also at member states level. The biggest challenge, in my view, is that adaptation is somehow still considered a backup plan, if all our mitigation efforts fail.
Mitigation is the center of our action, whereas if we look at today’s reality and we look at the climatic conditions in Europe and elsewhere in the world, it’s not like we first do mitigation and then, if we don’t succeed, then we do much adaptation.
We have to do both at the same time. So politically we need to build the preparedness up to the same level as our mitigation actions, in terms of policy priority, political visibility, but also in terms of financing. Because when we invest in resilience, we have the possibility to avoid damages costs. And instead of paying for recovery, we will pay for preparedness, which is an investment in view of future eventualities and climate consequences. So, if you like, the biggest challenge with adaptation and preparedness for us is to get ahead of the impact and to invest in the future, rather than to find financing on ad hoc basis to recover the damages.
Rep: And which are the directions which are helping the continent to adapt, in terms of policy?
EB: In terms of policy, the first thing for us is to have a clear view of the situation, of the risk exposure. And to do just that, my team together with the European Environment Agency is currently carrying out the first ever European climate risk assessment, which will look at all the sectors – forestry, agriculture, health, energy sector, infrastructure and assess the impact of policies now and in 10 years’ time, and also in the longer-term perspective. And then we will assess the readiness of our policy and financial instruments to deal with those realities. So, we’re really looking at the intersection of policy and science in order to identify the best ways of moving forward.
Rep: When could we see some conclusions on this assessment?
EB: Our timeline is for the first quarter of 2024. And why do we have that timeline? It’s because around that time the debate before the European Parliament election is going to get the most heated. And that debate and our assessment hopefully will inform the identification of the work program priorities for the next Commission, which will be running until the end of 2029. During that time, they will be already thinking about the next multiannual financial framework which will be setting the tone for the coming future. Because our cycles are so long, we need to hit the political moment that gives us the best mileage.
Rep: What is the connection between the national security and the effects of climate change? For example, how important is for every state to have a national climate change monitoring system, multiple natural disaster detection systems, as a first line of state defense?
EB: We do a lot of reflection on disaster reduction together with our colleagues in DG ECHO, who run the European civil protection mechanism. And they provide a lot of the kind of disaster prevention data to the member states. But the member states that have the best and most robust disaster preparedness plans are often those member states that also have very good national adaptation plans and strategies. And those two plans, when they work together and they make sure they capitalize on the information resources, the satellite data and others that are available, then your national readiness is up to speed.
But I have to admit quite a few member states have not been taking this very seriously. And as we move along and as the consequences become more and more dramatic, this is indeed an area where we have to step up our game.
Rep: I was curious about the 2040 climate targets which are now under negotiations, as far as I know.
EB: Not in negotiations yet. What’s happening at the moment is that the Commission is firstly carrying out an extensive economic assessment or impact assessment that looks at economic, social and environmental impacts of any kind of target that would be put forward. Then the college of Commissioners needs to discuss it, whereafter it will be adopted and after the adoption, our target plan becomes Communication or a proposal from the Commission to the Council – so all the member States – and the European Parliament for their consideration. But, of course, we’re not going to finish that discussion during this election cycle.
It will be something that needs to be reflected during the next few years, to come to a consensus and understanding about the next target. We do need the 2040 target, because at the moment we have the 2030 target and then this giant leap to net zero. So, for businesses to be able to plan they investments and business models, they will need to know what’s going to happen in between. So, this type of milestone is very important in charting their strategies moving forward.
Rep: I heard that these 2040 targets will be established in the first quarter of next year.
EB: The proposals will be put forward, but that is not the establishment, that’s an opening of the conversation.
Rep: I understand, now it’s clear. You were talking about businesses, and my next questions is about businesses. Setting the 2040 targets for the emission reductions will impact many economic sectors in the EU. What are the main challenges you foresee for European businesses and especially small businesses?
EB: Well, first thing is securing the necessary investment. And that type of investment, be it public or private investment, comes with transparency requirements. And the administrative requirements that the transparency comes with is often too much for some of the SME’s and similarly for adaptation financing. One of the key sources should be the European Investment Bank, who currently has a 25 million threshold for their loans. We have a very profound thinking about how do we also cater for the small players, because these SMEs constitute a very large part of our economy and how can we credibly drive the transformation. We need to think of the models and platforms that serve their needs in order to allow them to be part of the transition as well.
Rep: Exactly, because my I’m very concerned about the social impact of the transition, and vulnerable citizens and small businesses are also vulnerable actors.
EB: That’s where this social justice and just transition come to play. We need to have those networks and social security structures in place at national level, but also at the EU level. We’re using some of the ETS revenue for the Social Climate Fund to ensure that the most vulnerable parts of the community are really helped in the transition.
Rep: I have one question which is a little bit more specific: how should companies or what should companies, and especially small companies, do to adapt to increasingly strict regulations regarding sustainability and to turn challenges into opportunities?
EB: I was thinking about that a lot. There are some capacity building programs that can be accessed through the European Commission, but there’s also kind of a proactive possibility for smaller businesses and entrepreneurs to join forces and maybe hire consultancy support as a group of companies rather than one company having a full-time person doing this, or trying to meet the requirements. Also, there’s interesting opportunity for instance from private banking, that have a lot of capacity that maybe they can be mobilised to support the SMEs that are often their clients as well to meet the requirements of taxonomy or other SEG policies.
Rep: Climate finance is a crucial aspect of climate action, especially for developing countries. Can you elaborate on the EU’s commitments and efforts to support climate finance and assistance to vulnerable nations, especially in the South-East Europe? I see a transition with two speeds in Europe: we have the Western part of Europe, which is more advanced in the transition and more developed, and this part of Europe, which is going slower. So, because the finance is more important than anything, how is the EU supporting the development of this region of Europe, through financing mechanism?
EB: For instance, if we look at some of the instruments that are built from the ETS revenues – ETS revenues are getting bigger and bigger as we speak, because the ETS price has gone from some €10 to €100 and now it’s at €75. So, the auctions that we organize for emissions trading are bringing the member states a lot of revenues and part of those revenues will be used to transfer from the polluting industry to the modernization of the industry. And the Modernisation Fund, which is a dedicated fund for the 13 less advantaged countries, which are Eastern European, has volumes to deploy and of course it’s based on the member states’ plans and project initiatives. But for instance, during the 2021-2023, Romania has already gotten 2.6 billion in modernization funds to help her specifically in their transition. It’s based on GDP, current level of vision, so we’re trying to do a bit of sharing. Also, the targets that South-Eastern countries have are less strict than they are, for instance, for Finland, Sweden. So Romanian target in the effort sharing regulation is not 55, it’s a reduction of 12.7% from 1990 levels. So, with these instruments we are trying to balance the inequalities.
Rep: What can the countries from the SE European region, including Romania, do to accelerate the energy transition and climate action? If you have some specific advices, let’s say. How is this region moving towards climate action?
EB: That’s quite a bit of opportunities in the renewable sector, also the energy efficiency formula – you know some of the buildings stock is quite out of date, so ensuring that the built infrastructure emissions are going down is also important. In terms of renewables, we are working with other member states partner countries, to look at what type of models work there. And there are some very interesting practices, for instance in Slovenia, where they really embraced the transition. But it also takes a very clear planning. We should not be reverting back to coal fired power plants, because at the end of the day investment in coal is going to lead to stranded assets when those practices are no longer accepted.
Rep: What are the risks for countries that remain behind in this huge process of transforming the European economy in a net zero economy by 2050?
EB: The risks are regarding competitiveness. It’s loss of competitiveness, loss of skills, because we also need to work on skills, and the society not meeting the challenges of future in the best possible way. We can’t turn back clock. Even if we resisted the change when the whole world is changing, you know those who are left behind by their own choice will be marginalized and they will become increasingly irrelevant.
Rep: Let’s talk a little bit about climate diplomacy, if you would like. What are some of the key priorities and strategies of the European Commission in advancing climate diplomacy on international stage?
EB: One of our priorities is to work with strategic partners to build green alliances. We already have a green alliance with Japan and Norway, we’re working on one with Canada and we want to make sure that we deploy scalable low carbon solutions and learn from each other ‘s experience in the context of the transition. These alliances offer a lot of political visibility and weight. The other priority stream is working with the most vulnerable countries to deploy increasing climate financing to them, to help them become more resilient with the negative consequences and also to modernise. Of course, our cooperation is not at the same nature as our work with the advanced economies, but still, it is important for them to understand our common interest in climate actions and to see that the EU is actually engaging in the solidarity and multilateralism strands, and is not just looking after its self-interest.
SHORT BIO: Ms. Elina Bardram was appointed Director for Adaptation & Resilience, Communication, and Civil Society Relations at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Climate Action in October 2022. She joined DG CLIMA in 2010 and has held different senior and middle management functions in the area of international relations, including as Head of the EU Delegation to the UNFCCC negotiations between 2014- 2018. Between 2003-2010, Ms. Bardram worked in the Strategy Directorate of the External Relations Directorate-General. She holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the Vienna University of Economics and Business. Her academic work has focused on the impacts of globalisation.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Romanian version of the interview can be read HERE.
(Credit foto: Mihnea Ratte)