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Making the EU Carbon-Neutral: Interview with Massimo Garribba, Deputy Director-General DG Energy EC

Making the EU Carbon-Neutral: Interview with Massimo Garribba, Deputy Director-General DG Energy EC
11 . Oct . 2021

Massimo Garribba is Deputy Director-General responsible for the coordination of Euratom policy. The Deputy Director-General provides overall guidance, co-ordination and supervision of DG ENER’s activities in the areas of nuclear safety, radiation protection, spent fuel and radioactive waste management, as well as nuclear safeguards inspections and verification activities, with a view to ensuring coherence in the implementation of the European Commission's responsibilities under the Euratom Treaty.

Most countries around the world are competing to set challenging goals that lead to a drastic cut in CO2 by 2030. However, if you look at the path taken in recent years, the real results are often not in line with expectations. In your opinion, what needs to be done for the energy sector to decarbonize as soon as possible?

75% of emissions in the EU are due to the production and use of energy. The core objective of the European Green Deal’s is for the EU to become climate neutral by 2050. This will not happen unless we can set ourselves on the right path in this decade. This is why there is such a focus on what we can achieve by 2030. Our current policies and national measures, if fully implemented, would take us to a 45% greenhouse gas emissions reduction. The recent IPCC report is sobering. Decarbonisation requires nothing less than a complete transformation of the entire economy and a fundamental change in our lifestyle. To do so, all partners across all sectors across the globe need to be more ambitious. The only way of achieving this ambition is to raise the level of public and private investment in the clean energy transition – like a new industrial revolution. 

Our strategy is threefold: 

1. Prioritising energy efficiency, with its great potential for energy savings.

2. Electrifying where we can, with a major focus on renewable energy.

3. Innovating where we cannot electrify, for instance with more low-carbon fuels and hydrogen. 

On the basis of this strategy, we have increased our climate and energy targets and now aim for a 55% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030. We are also updating EU legislation in order to meet our renewed targets. On 14 July, the European Commission adopted a package of 12 legislative proposals to reach the 55% target. It includes a targeted revision of EU directives on Renewable Energy, Energy Efficiency and Alternative Fuels as well as measures on energy taxation, forests, a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism and an extension to the Emissions Trading System. Concretely, we have proposed higher energy efficiency and renewable energy targets, with specific focus on sectors that are harder to decarbonise: building (including heating and cooling), transport and industry. We are proposing to put greater emphasis on electrification and alternative fuels as well. We are also encouraging the public sector to lead by example, such as with obligations to reduce energy consumption, increase energy efficient renovation and introduce systematic consideration of energy efficiency in public procurement.  

By the end of the year, the Commission expects to propose more legislative alignment with our higher climate and energy goals, not least on the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive; on competitive, decarbonised gas markets, including renewable hydrogen; and on reducing methane emissions in the energy sector. There is wider environmental, economic and social rationale behind our measures to decarbonise. They would build on the 1.5 million jobs in the EU related to clean energy technologies, with an estimated annual turnover of EUR 160 billion, and improve living conditions. They would enable services and businesses to grow using less energy and support investments in energy that would mobilise an additional €392 billion per year. While decarbonisation has a positive economic and job creation impact in the longer term, the transition process is not without difficulties for certain sectors, regions or individuals. That is why the EU puts major emphasis on fairness of the transition and has set up a separate just transition pillar of the European Green Deal, paying particular attention to carbon intensive regions. Specific accompanying measures have been in place for most exposed industrial sectors. For the first time, the Commission has now also proposed a specific fund to assist vulnerable households. The newly proposed Social Climate Fund will help energy poor and other vulnerable households to invest in energy efficiency measures and sustainable mobility solutions thus to avoid having to face a price hike due to carbon pricing of fossil fuels. To make a noticeable difference, we need global action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero. 80% of global emissions come from the G20 economies. We are ready for COP26, and call on all other countries to demonstrate their highest possible level of ambition.

The competition for so-called rare materials to produce batteries, photovoltaic panels, etc. could be a slowdown in the path towards greater sustainability of the energy industry?

Ensuring sustainable and resilient supply chains will help us to achieve climate neutrality and the objectives set out in the European Green Deal. The EU is dependent on several raw materials that are essential for green transition such as those used to produce solar panels. We estimate a 4-fold increase in demand for silver and up to a 12-fold increase for silicon by 2050. For cadmium, gallium, indium, selenium and tellurium the change in the demand will increase up to 40 times in 2050. The highest demand in 2050 is expected for germanium, which might increase up to 86 times compared to 2018 values. Addressing strategic dependencies is an opportunity to ensure that the EU has access to the raw materials it needs to translate the green transition into a competitive advantage. Policies that incentivise a more circular economy can help reduce the EU’s dependence on several products. Consequently, these policies could boost EU’s resilience, with a clear benefit for the environment, but also for the benefit of the EU industry and the economy as a whole.

Several initiatives are ongoing to address strategic dependencies and build capacity, ultimately supporting the European Green Deal, for instance:

  • The Raw Materials Action Plan and the European Raw Materials Alliance (2020) supporting investment to reduce dependency on raw materials.
  • The Action Plan on the Circular Economy (2020) targeting how products are designed, promoting circular economy processes, encouraging sustainable consumption and aimed at ensuring that waste is prevented and that the resources used are kept in the EU economy for as long as possible.
  • The European Battery Alliance (2017) aiming for 15 gigafactories in Europe offering enough battery cells by 2025 to power 6 million electric cars;
  • The European Clean Hydrogen Alliance (2020) proposing concrete projects that deliver a robust foundation for the hydrogen value chain in the EU.

How much could the commitment to greater energy sustainability lead to a change in geopolitics balance?

In the past and at present, global energy exchanges cover mostly fossil fuels, like oil, natural gas or coal. Most countries in the world depend on imports of fossil fuels from other countries or from the world market. This is very much the case for the EU. Over the years, we have seen instances where certain countries exporting fossil fuels have exploited such dependence as a political instrument. At the same time, there are many countries where the economy depends largely on income generated through the export of fossil fuels or just on the transit of such fuels, notably natural gas. The move to a climate-neutral economy, fuelled by renewable energy and needing less energy due to the significant increase of energy efficiency, will undoubtedly have an impact on geopolitics. But it will not happen overnight. Like the previous industrial revolutions, the changes will take place in the course of a generation (or more). But they are inevitable and the ones that benefit most will be those that embrace these changes, rather than those that try to perpetuate the fossil fuel economy. Another aspect of the new geopolitics is the increased dependence of our economies on several raw materials that are essential for the green transition. We need to get prepared for these developments, helping to make countries, in particular within the EU, less dependent on fossil fuels, address new “green” dependencies and cooperate with non-EU countries currently depending on the export of fossil fuels to mitigate the possible negative effects of the transition.

There is no company in the world that does not claim to pursue objectives of greater sustainability. What must a company do to be really sustainable?

In order to be sustainable, a company should orient itself towards environmentally sustainable activities, and refrain from engaging in activities that do significant harm to our environment. For example, in the field of energy, a company should orient itself towards clean, in particular renewable energy, and stop investing in activities involving solid fossil fuels, known to be very harmful for the environment. Even in the development of renewable energy, attention must be paid to all relevant environmental aspects, e.g. avoiding significant negative effects on water or biodiversity. At the core of the Commission’s work on sustainable finance is to define “sustainable” or “green” activities and develop tools to clearly identify technologies and businesses that contribute to our European Green Deal objectives.

Most notably, in April, the Commission adopted a series of measures that enable investors to re-orient investments towards more sustainable technologies and businesses. The measures will be instrumental in making Europe climate neutral by 2050. One of the measures, the EU Taxonomy, is a tool for companies and investors, providing them with a common understanding of the green economic activities that can make a substantial contribution to the aims of the European Green Deal and avoid greenwashing. The EU Taxonomy also introduces an obligation for some investors and companies to disclose their share of Taxonomy-aligned activities.

Also in April, the Commission proposed a Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive to improve the flow of sustainability information in the corporate world, with more companies obliged to report on sustainability and Taxonomy alignment. This reporting would make it easier to compare companies and investments in terms of the environmental performance and can guide investors in their investment decisions. Companies and project promoters can also choose to meet the criteria of the EU Taxonomy in order to attract investors interested in financing green activities.

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