“Climate free riders” cause tensions in the EU


Half of EU member states will not fulfill their climate goals for 2020. This causes frustration inside the EU and makes new climate goals less ambitious. New legislation is necessary, according to members of the European Parliament and climate organizations.

By Olga Kalatzi and Jeppe Trans

“We are getting frustrated with those member states. They could deliver more, but they do not want to,” says Christel Schaldemose, Danish member of the European Parliament from the Social Democratic group and substitute for the environment committee.As EU will be the front-runner in negotiations on tackling climate change in COP21 in December, not all member states in the Union are doing well in terms of reaching their own domestic climate goals.

According to the latest report from 2014 published by the European Commission, 13 out of 28 EU member states will not be able to live up to their 2020 climate goals in the non-ETS sectors. The EU as a whole is projected to reach the overall 2020 target, but this is only due to overachievement from some member states. This leads to internal frustration in the EU, because some see the 13 countries as “free riders”. Among them, the ones that are far most behind are Luxemburg, Spain and Ireland.

In order to combat climate change the EU established a set of policies and measures known as the Climate and Energy package. The non-Emission Trading System (non-ETS) is part of this package and it establishes binding targets for greenhouse gas emissions for member states until 2020. Non-ETS includes the transport, agriculture, building and waste sectors. It is up every member state to decide how to implement the legislation necessary to meet the goals.

Christel Schaldemose thinks the current legislation is too soft, and does not encourage member states enough to see them fulfill their climate targets.

Christel Schaldemose is worried about the differences in progress achieving the 2020 climate goals. Photo: Scanpix

Christel Schaldemose is worried about the differences in progress achieving the 2020 climate goals. Photo: Scanpix

“We have to make it more expensive to do nothing. Make it more expensive to pollute, than not to pollute. Then you have a financial reason for countries to change policy,” she says.

Naming and shaming is a solution

According to Ulriikka Aarnio, the International Climate Policy Coordinator for Climate Action Network, the Commission should put even more pressure on member states. She thinks that sanctions and aggressive finger pointing from other countries and the Commission could be a way of getting the member states on track.

Molly Walsh, policy officer from Friends of the Earth, agrees and points out that “naming and shaming” can be an effective way of getting member states to fulfill their goals.

“We try to push the Commission to be more strong on “naming and shaming” and also “naming and faming”. Saying for example, that Denmark is doing great and is good example that other member states can look to,” she says.

According to Molly Walsh, one of the problems with the Commission’s pressure through annual compliance is that the domestic media often do not focus on these reports.

“If you are the Prime Minister of Spain you do not really care if there is an article in some Brussels newspaper about this table. What you care about is if Spanish newspapers are writing, that Spain are failing to meet the targets,” she says.

No sanctions before 2020

According to researchers on EU policy and climate change, Wijnand Stoefs and Milan Elkerbout, the EU Commission cannot sanction the member states lagging behind before 2020, because this is when the climate goals are set to be fulfilled.

“Member states are actually the ones to decide. The Commission can only hope that the member states will do something to finally reach the goals,” they explain.

The spokesperson for the Commissioner for Climate Change and Energy did not want to comment on this matter, but an official source from the Commission says that:

The Commission has just proposed a new system for the ETS, in an attempt to improve the legislation. Photo: Olga Kalatzi

The Commission has just proposed a new system for the ETS, in an attempt to improve the legislation. Photo: Olga Kalatzi

“We can track progress among the member states and check if they are on track to meet their individual 2020 targets. If they are not, we publish reports about it. That is a way to put some pressure on member states to take additional measures.

Even though the report states that 13 member states will not be able to fulfill the 2020 climate goals, the source from the Commission is still optimistic.

“I think that these member states have enough years not to be lagging behind in 2020. There will be full compliance in 2020.”

Member states deny the accusations

One of the member states being accused of not doing enough to reach the 2020 goals is Spain. The General Subdirector from the Department of Climate Change in the Spanish Environment Ministry, Eduardo González Fernández, denies that Spain is not on track. However, he did not provide specific numbers, but a list of initiatives that the government is planning to adopt.

Ireland and Luxembourg have also expressed in the media that they are making progress in combating climate change.

More pressure is necessary

Danish member of the European Parliament for the Greens, Margrete Auken, thinks that economic sanctions is a way to get the 13 member states on track along with diplomatic pressure. Christel Schaldemose agrees with that.

“I think one of the ways out of the crisis is to invest public money in order to pollute less and be more energy efficient etc. It creates jobs. In the end those money is well spent, because then you lower your energy costs. For me that solution is win-win,” she says.