Europe and Central Asia
16 Jan 2017

Climate Packages – just pretty wrapping?

(c) Shutterstock
By Sini Eräjää

True to the spirit of New Year, Sini Eräjää – Bioenergy Policy Officer at BirdLife Europe & Central Asia – looks back upon some of the climate and energy disappointments of 2016 and makes her wish for a Happy New (& Sustainable) Year for Nature in 2017.

They say ‘Never look a gift horse in the mouth’. Good manners dictate that gifts should be received graciously – even the garish, over-sized novelty sweaters your great-aunt gives you every Christmas, or that pointless kitchen gadget that will live its life at the back of your cupboard until you eventually conclude that it does not make peeling a banana easier. After all, it’s the thought that counts right? While I am all for feigned smiles and warm thanks with well-meaning relatives, I find myself a more discerning recipient of ‘global issue’ gifts wrapped up in pretty packages. Good intentions are not enough when it comes to saving our planet.

At the end of last year, the European Commission presented us with its ‘Winter Package’, just in time to place under our festively decorated trees. Beautifully wrapped in shiny recycled paper, tied up in a bright green bow with an elegantly written name tag addressed to ‘Dear concerned citizens’, and inside, policies that will chart our renewable energy future until 2030. This giant gift box contained some nice surprises – such as raising the EU’s ambitions for energy efficiency. Yet, like the ‘Summer Package’ on climate, published in June, its lavish dressing disguised a disappointing array of loopholes and blind spots. This kind of green-washing is the policy equivalent of ‘batteries not included’ or ‘one size fits all’.

But ‘it’s the thought that counts’ remember and the season of good will; surely a little progress is already better? A closer look will show you why it’s not bad manners, but rather good foresight, to label these packages ‘Return to sender’. For example, while the Commission’s proposals to include land and forests (the so-called LULUCF sector)[1] in their climate policy framework seems like a step forward, their current ‘climate accounting’ methods bring us two steps back to a situation where greenhouse emissions savings are claimed on paper but increased in reality. As Sam Lee Gammage from the RSPB (BirdLife in UK) so concisely explained in a recent article for BirdLife, the natural carbon storage capacity offered by forests and soils must be increased, but not as a substitute for reducing emissions from other sectors, notably agriculture. Indeed, he points out that some incentivised ‘emissions offsetting’ measures do more harm than good for the environment; in Ireland so called ‘green incentives’ have seen nature-rich habitats on marginal farmland replaced with single species tree planting, with dreadful consequences for many farmland bird species.

Similarly, the Winter Package’s contents with regards to the sustainability of bioenergy was more stocking filler than thoughtful gift. While we can all agree that the EU needs more renewable energy, the Commission’s over-dependence on bioenergy (currently 65% of our renewable energy mix) at the expense of more sustainable alternatives such as solar and wind power is the very definition of fighting a losing battle. As our new publication ‘The Black Book of Bioenergy’ shows, bioenergy is not the green dream it is made out to be: it still results in CO2 emissions and, in some cases, it can even exacerbate global warming. NGOs have been calling for safeguards that will rule out risky biomass sources (such as land hungry crops) and ensure bioenergy use is sustainable, but the Winter Package chose to ignore inconvenient truths.

Falling prey to appearances can blind us to the bigger picture – ensuring an environmentally sustainable future. Both Summer and Winter Packages are now in the hands of the European Parliament and the Council. We have one last chance to ensure that the right guidance and safeguards are put in place so the gift of, and indeed the right to, clean energy and a healthy climate are secured for generations to come. We need our leaders to carefully assess the environmental impacts of these proposed laws and ensure that they are furthering the goals of the Nature Directives that we all fought so hard to save last year. Let this victory be a lesson – when it comes to nature, it’s not disrespectful or rude to ask for more. After all, it’s January – the month of exchange and refunds! So my wish for a Happy New Year for nature in 2017, is for us to avoid the honey-trap of style over substance and go all out and demand that Europe’s leaders give us policies that are green and not green-washed. So, my wish for a Happy New Year for nature in 2017, is for the Parliament and Council to exchange these green-washed climate and energy policies and give citizens the gift of policies that are truly green.

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Sini Eräjää is Bioenergy Policy Officer at BirdLife Europe & Central Asia

[1] LULUCF – Land Use, Land Use Change & Forestry. 

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.