The EU will not reach 2050 climate neutrality without raising its energy and climate targets

As climate change and decarbonisation become the priority of the new European Commission under the 'Green Deal', the European Committee of the Regions has adopted a set of opinions related to Europe's climate agenda. Amongst them are recommendations to address the clean energy transition in coal regions and the involvement of local and regional authorities in the 2030 National Energy and Climate Plans (NCPS). In a plenary session stamped by the future of cohesion policy, members support a separate fund for coal regions yet involving local and regional governments in investment decisions. EU cities and regions want to move forward the localisation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and recall that Europe will not reach climate neutrality by 2050 without upgrading the current climate and energy targets.

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Members adopted the opinion 'Sustainable Europe by 2030, follow-up to the UN Sustainable Development Goals: ecological transition and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change'. The opinion focuses on the 'planet' pillar of the UN's 2030 Agenda - the goals linked to the ecological and climate transition. Members stress the urgent need to 'localise' SDGs including the definition of local and regional objectives, milestones and progress indicators in addition to deploying adequate resources.

Rapporteur Sirpa Hertell (FI/EPP), city councillor of Espoo, said: "We can achieve the Sustainable Development Goals only if the EU and national levels work together with cities and regions. It is us who can transform these goals locally through sustainable projects. This is what we have done successfully in my city of Espoo." It is estimated that 65% of the 169 targets underlying the 17 SDGs will not be reached without the engagement of local and regional governments (OECD).

As requisites to achieve the SDGs, members request full policy coherence and effective multi-level governance - which formally includes LRAs in planning, implementation, monitoring, reporting and verification at the EU and global levels. Ending subsidies on fossil fuels and strong market-based incentives for multiplying clean investments are a must, members agree. During the new mandate 2019-20124, the CoR seeks to deepen cooperation with the European Parliament's Intergroup on Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development and EP competent committees to accelerate the implementation of SDGs locally.  

Rapporteur József Ribányi (HU/EPP) presented the opinion 'Implementing the Clean Energy Package: the INECPs as a tool for local and territorial governance approach to climate, active and passive energy'. The Vice-President of the County Council of Tolna Megye said: "Local and regional authorities hold direct competencies in key areas of the energy transition. We manage large building stocks and transport networks, define urban planning and land use and can empower decentralised energy generation. Local and regional authorities are therefore indispensable in delivering the objectives of the National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs)."

The CoR calls on Member States to further involve local and regional authorities in the definition and future implementation of their NECPs as stipulated in the Regulation on the governance of the energy union and climate action. In addition, the EU's Assembly of cities and regions proposes to create and coordinate, jointly with the European Commission, a permanent platform that brings together Member States' representatives, local and regional authorities and CoR members as to improve cooperation and coherence towards reaching the EU's 2030 climate and energy objectives and climate neutrality by 2050.

Members adopted an opinion on 'Implementing the Paris Agreement through innovative and sustainable energy transition at regional and local level'. Rapporteur Witold Stępień (PL/EPP), Member of the Łódzkie Regional Assembly, said: "To implement the Paris climate accord and ambitious emission targets for climate protection, we need a just energy transition. For this to succeed, it is necessary to broadly involve regional and local authorities as they can most effectively put into practice and stimulate the initiatives and expectations of citizens and businesses."

The CoR recalls its demand to increase the EU's 2030 target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from 40% to 50%, to raise the renewable energy target to 40% and to set more ambitious targets for energy efficiency as the only way to reach climate neutrality by 2050.

Complementing the opinion of rapporteur Stępień, members adopted 'The socio-economic transformation of Europe's coal regions' by Mark Speich (E/EPP), Secretary of State for Federal, European and International Affairs from North Rhine Westphalia. Members agree on the need to deploy a dedicated fund to support coal regions' economic transformation and alleviate the socio-economic difficulties that may result from it. While linked to cohesion policy governance, the specific fund should not be deducted from its current budget share, members agree.

The clean energy transition in coal and energy-intense regions is a key aspect of Europe's decarbonisation and a requisite to honour the EU's commitments under the Paris climate agreement. Coal accounts for nearly a quarter of the total electricity production in the EU. It employs 240,000 people in mines and power plants across 41 regions and 12 EU countries (EC).

Members unanimously adopted the opinion 'Smart cities: new challenges for a just transition toward climate neutrality – how to implement the SDGs in real life'. Rapporteur Andries Gryffroy (BE/EA), member of the Flemish Parliament, said: "Cities and communities have an important role to play in the transition to a resource-efficient, climate-neutral and bio-diverse Europe. We need to create more and better opportunities to help and support local and regional actors in this evolution. A bottom-up approach, with smart actions evolving out of local cooperation will be necessary. This inclusivity is equally necessary to close the digital gap as to make sure that the weakest parties are not left behind in the transition towards a digital society." The adopted opinion responds to a referral of Finland's EU presidency.

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