Time’s nearly up: so, what has Juncker’s commission done to advance the green agenda?

(Transport and Environment, 8 May 2019) In two weeks Europeans go to the polls to elect a new European Parliament and, indirectly, a new European Commission president. It’s a vote that matters hugely for the environment. But before we look ahead, it’s useful to assess the Juncker Commission. So what did Jean-Claude Juncker and his team do well, and what could the next Commission do better?

When Juncker took office his top priority was jobs and growth and one of the key ways he wanted to achieve this was by “better regulation” or, more accurately, deregulation with environment top of the hit list. The top climate job was given to a Spanish conservative, and none of the vice-presidents were in charge of sustainability. For a time, things looked pretty grim.

And yet the EU helped broker the Paris climate agreement, reformed its emissions trading system (today’s ETS price is €24/tonne of carbon, a far cry from 2014’s €4/tonne), and agreed 2030 climate targets. It also regulated truck emissions for the first time, strengthened vehicle emissions tests and controls in the Dieselgate aftermath, set new CO2 standards for cars, decided to phase out palm oil from biodiesel, and started the conversation about the total decarbonisation of our economy by 2050.

That’s a decent track record bearing in mind the global political environment this Commission had to operate in. “You don’t seem to like President Juncker,” an angry Commission official once snapped at us. “But I can tell you you’d like President Trump, Putin and Xi a lot less!”

But it’s also fair to point out that things like the ETS, the 2030 targets, and the car CO2 standards were requested by the European Council in 2014. Where the Commission had freedom was in the choice of measures and how far they’d go. And this is the other side of the coin: the Commission’s proposals were mostly underwhelming with governments and the European Parliament needing to step in to secure a more acceptable level of ambition.

Perhaps this then characterises the ‘Juncker method’ on environment: play safe and focus on what will secure a broad consensus (including with industry or climate-sceptic governments) but let governments and Parliament fight the detail and get their hands dirty if they want something genuinely ambitious.

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Transport and Environment, 8 May 2019: Time’s nearly up: so, what has Juncker’s commission done to advance the green agenda?