Rebecca Harms: European Parliament Climate Change Committee lacks uniform commitment

Bellona Archive

Publish date: June 20, 2007

Written by: Niklas Kalvø Tessem

BRUSSELS – Member of European Parliament Rebecca Harms, vice chair of the newly convened European Parliament Temporary Committee on Climate Change (CLIM), told Bellona Web in a wide ranging interview that the new body is lacking in a uniform commitment on fighting global warming.

The committee met for the first time on June 7th.

Environment on top of the agenda
The European Parliament has increased efforts to upgrade its environment profile the past few years. As climate change has come to the top of the agenda for all decision makers, particularly in the EU, the European Parliament has responded to the challenges of global warming with several statements and actions. The most important decision was to create a temporarily committee dealing with the challenges of global warming, with an initial one year mandate. This move proves the seriousness of the Parliament about addressing global warming immediately.

The Committee on Climate Change consist of 60 Members of the European Parliament (MEP), and its mandate is to assess policy options and review scientific evidence on human made climate change.

Rebecca Harms comes from the Green Party, and is elected from Germany. As vice chair of the committee, she will work with a core issue for the Green Party -using the European Parliament as a vehicle to enhance awareness about all aspects of environmental legislation in the EU.

In 2006 she hosted an open Parliament hearing about the danger of nuclear energy development together with Bellona, bringing in stakeholders, decision makers, and scientists to discuss problems and solutions related to nuclear dangers.

Climate change sceptics

Even though there is today a broad international consensus that climate change is happening, some of the MEPs on the Committee on Climate Change seemed to deny that global warming is man made. This might potentially hamper the progressive potential of the Committee. Harms stressed the importance of having agreement on the basic facts of climate change, and necessary steps to be taken, and not having to reignite the whole debate.

“We can not doubt basic assumptions, for example that it is necessary to keep global warming below 2 degrees, that is necessary to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent by 2030, and that Europe must achieve a 20 percent share of renewable energy sources by 2020,” she said in her interview with Bellona Web.

“There should be no more arguments around the decision of the EU Energy Summit. Then the committee can talk about concrete policy measures.”

Heiligendamm G-8 Declaration

One of the proposals in the first Committee meeting was to adopt a common position acknowledging the joint declaration on climate change made by Group of Eight (G-8) leaders during the Heiligendamm Summit earlier this month. Harms is of the view that G-8 commitments were too vague for the European Parliament to make such acknowledgements.

The Heiligendamm Declaration is not clear enough according to Harms. She pointed to the fact that the European Parliament has already adopted a quite ambitious plan to cut greenhouse gases, and the G-8 leaders only reached a common position that reduction targets should be met by 2050.

She acknowledged the progress made in finding a global agreement that the United Nations is the right place to further action against climate change, as the Heiligendamm Declaration suggests, but wants more binding commitments.

CCS must very soon be proven efficient

Bellona is of the opinion that renewable energy sources and energy efficiency measures are not enough to reach the necessary targets of greenhouse gas emission cuts. The most effective short-term tool to fight global warming rapidly is carbon capture and storage technology (CCS), alongside necessary development of renewable energy sources and energy efficiency.

Rebecca Harms, however, has some questions about this technology, and wants more certainty in the sustainability and safety of CO2 storage.

“More research and development is needed on this,” she said. “This should be a responsibility for the industry as well, and not only the public.”

To reach the goal of a renewable energy share of 20 percent by 2020, Harms wants to introduce more feed-in tariffs. This way, the price on renewable energy for suppliers is set to a level that is financially attractive for producers to make energy from renewable sources. This is a tool already used in Germany, and the goal is to reduce the fixed price on renewable energy when the technology becomes more available.

Nuclear scare and Russia

Late trends of thought indicate a more positive attitude among decision makers to nuclear energy as a clean way to fight global warming. Indeed, nuclear energy produces no Greenhouse emissions.

But Harms does not think nuclear energy is a viable solution because of the dangers related to the waste handling, and the inevitable proliferation of nuclear weapons technology. She believes the Chernobyl accident in 1986 should be a strong reminder of the danger nuclear power poses to the world.

Furthermore, she is worried about Russia’s nuclear ambitions, and insists that the EU should have a tougher line against Moscow.

“There is a movement in favour of nuclear development, but instead of making new nuclear power plants, they want to extend the lifetime of old (ones),” she said. “This is a severe problem that the EU should criticise.”

The latest gas delivery crisis between the EU and Russia could act as an incentive to cut European dependency on fossil energy. Harms made clear that the dependency on gas is a problem, not only for security reasons, but also because it is a source of carbon dioxide emissions.

She does not, however, fear a Russian boycott of European markets because she believes Russia is too dependent on the European markets. According to Harms, This interdependence makes it even more important that the EU criticises Russian aggression in the energy field and on related environment aspects.

Carbon free future

Harms advocates energy efficiency as one of the main tools in the fight against global warming. Alongside energy efficiency, the development of renewable energy sources is vital to quickly meet necessary reduction targets of greenhouse gases. Equally important is the need to for people to change their lifestyle.

“For 2020 to 2035 the development depends on how fast changes are made,” she said. “This can come partly from technology and partly from a change in lifestyle. Cutting carbon dioxide is not only dependent on efficient cars, but also on fewer cars.”

Facts about the European Parliament:

– 785 Members of Parliament (MEPs)

– Directly elected from EU Member States since 1979

– One of two legislative bodies in the European Union

– Equal decision making power with the Council of Ministers in most EU legislation, a process called the co- decision procedure.

– 24 permanent and temporary

– 8 party groups and 15 non- aligned MEPs