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EU’s new green chief vows not to weaken climate ambition

Maros Sefcovic, Vice President for Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight of the European Commission, attends the press meeting after the informal meeting of the General Affairs Council at Arlanda Xpo in Stockholm, Sweden June 22, 2023. TT News Agency/Pontus Lundahl via REUTERS/File photo

The European Union will not dilute its efforts to fight climate change, but needs to improve communication with industries worried about the cost of CO2-cutting policies, the European Commission’s new green policy chief said on Tuesday (29 August).

The EU has faced pushback on green policies from some member countries and EU lawmaker groups in recent months. Poland is taking Brussels to court over climate policies Warsaw says would worsen social inequality, while centre-right EU lawmakers have campaigned to kill off a new EU law to protect nature.

“We are not going to dilute our ambition,” European Commission Executive Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič said in a joint media interview on Tuesday in Brussels.

“What I believe is that we need to improve our communication and to be able to come faster, earlier and be more precise in our reactions to some of the natural worries which are there in some sectors.”

Šefčovič suggested the EU could arrange talks between companies generating clean power, and industries that need to purchase increasing volumes of low-carbon energy. A similar effort could be made to connect steel and cement producers with companies that plan to produce low-carbon hydrogen, a fuel heavy industries are betting on to cut CO2.

Brussels should also meet clean energy industries to discuss how to make it easier to access finance, said Šefčovič, who has run other EU schemes with industries to develop battery supply chains and jointly buy gas.

The United States’ massive clean energy subsidy push has stoked concerns that investors could be tempted away from Europe and highlighted some industries’ complaints that, while the EU offers various clean tech subsidies, the process to access them is long and complex.

A letter from industry group Hydrogen Europe to Šefčovič, dated Tuesday and seen by Reuters, urged him to address these concerns. “Plenty of European companies in the clean tech and especially in the hydrogen sector have already pointed out that they are very attracted by the US measures,” the letter said.

Šefčovič took over the overall coordination of EU climate and environmental policies last week, when his predecessor Frans Timmermans stepped down to run in the Dutch elections.

The change of guard comes at the end of a European summer of record-breaking wildfires, deadly heatwaves and flooding – which Šefčovič called “ominous signals” about the consequences that will follow if countries fail to address climate change.

The EU is also appointing a new Dutch Commissioner, who is expected to directly manage EU climate change policies and be the 27-country bloc’s negotiator at UN climate talks in November.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday appointed Wopke Hoekstra, the Dutch government’s nominee and outgoing Foreign Minister, to fill the EU role. If confirmed by the European Parliament, the Dutchman will work under the “guidance” of Šefčovič, von der Leyen said.