Climate change denial doubles down as EU invests for the future
EU members are to benefit from over €222 million in investments for environment, nature and climate action.
At the same time Britain is confirmed as one of the largest climate change denial hubs in the world, amidst mounting evidence of Russian influence and the creation of a new Hard Brexit think tank.
The European Commission has approved an investment package of €222 million from the EU budget to support Europe's transition to more sustainable and low-carbon future under the LIFE programme for the Environment and Climate Action.
The EU funding will mobilise additional investments leading to a total of €379 million going towards 139 new projects in 20 Member States.
Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella said: "In its 25th year, the LIFE programme continues to invest in innovative projects with high added value for people, businesses and nature. I am delighted to see that the programme transforms close-to-market technologies into new, green business.”
Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, Miguel Arias Cañete added: "The historic Paris Agreement on climate change has added wind to the sails of already accelerating climate-smart investments. With these projects, we use limited public finance in a catalytic way: we unlock private finance to protect the environment, fight climate change and provide cleaner energy to our citizens. These kinds of investments are of critical importance if we are to move from aspirations to action."
Meanwhile, in the UK, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Leave supporting MEP Daniel Hannan, are among those who have joined together with other to create a new hard Brexit think tank, IFT, which pushes climate change denial and deregulation.
Mike Galsworthy, popular commentator and founder of @Scientists4EU responded to the think tank saying: “Brexiteers & climate deniers continue to build monied transatlantic think-tank networks to foist neoliberalism on us.”
The think tank follows a new study, publicised by the World Economic forum, which concludes:
“We found that where religious or political polarization existed, it was greater among individuals with more general education and among individuals with greater scientific knowledge, as measured by both whether they had taken science courses and how they scored on a test of science literacy.”
According to the forum, “conservatives are more likely to dispute the scientific consensus on climate change if they have more education.”
They add: “There are two plausible explanations for this finding, according to the researchers. Firstly, the notion of “motivated reasoning,” namely that “more knowledgeable individuals are more adept at interpreting evidence in support of their preferred conclusions.” And secondly, over-confidence—as the researchers explain, “knowledge increases individuals’ confidence more quickly than it increases that knowledge.”
This is reflected in the UK government's attitude towards the exclusion of climate change from its Brexit bucket of policy.
However, attitudes towards climate change in the UK and US, for example, also have a darker meaning, in particular when set against the ongoing revelations as regards Russian involvement in the Trump election, and the use of Social Media by the former Soviet Union to covertly attack Western discourse.
Under the Trump administration, with the US withdrawing from the Paris Accord, a number of Russian interests stand to be served over the longer term.
With conservative and extreme right-wing politicians known to be at the very least sympathetic to Kremlin interests, and some of the directly funded through Russia, the growth of denial is unsurprising.
In addition to the ongoing exposure of the extent of Russian activity aimed at countering the promotion of fracking initiatives (designed to reduce gas import dependence) and green energy (such as wind) over fossil fuel dependence, huge sums of money within Russia's economy are dependent on the successful enhancement of their dominance in the control of oil and gas.
Contrary to the UK's Brexit ideals, the EU have learned from their harsh experience with Russia and gas supply, and have been working on reducing their dependence on the former Soviet Union.
In 2014 the European Commission's ‘stress tests' revealed a region extremely vulnerable to a cut in gas supply by its largest, and often sole, supplier. Moreover, consumers have historically paid significantly more for their gas in this region compared to Central Western Europe. To solve these problems, the Commission launched the CESEC Initiative in 2015, with the aim of guaranteeing that all countries in Central and South Eastern Europe (Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia) have access to a more varied mix of energy sources, and are properly interconnected to the rest of Europe.
CESEC has proven instrumental in the process of integrating the region's gas markets and has thus become a central channel for further consolidation across the energy sector.
Under the European Commission Initiative on Central and South-Eastern European Energy Connectivity (CESEC), launched in 2015, they have started to yield results by: “strengthening solidarity and enabling a safer and more affordable gas supply to citizens and business across the region.”
At the fourth CESEC High Level Group Ministerial meeting in Bucharest Šefčovič said: "Cooperation under the CESEC umbrella has turned into an exemplary success story, proving that solidarity is the solution. Given its rapid accomplishments in the field of gas, we are expanding the scope of the cooperation in the region to electricity, renewables and energy efficiency. It will therefore cover all dimensions of this project of European solidarity that is Energy Union. I am grateful to all those involved in making this cooperation come true. It is a positive and powerful message to citizens of the region, with benefits going beyond the energy systems."
The Ministers signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which complements the existing initiative and includes a joint approach on electricity markets, energy efficiency and renewable development.
It also incorporates a list of priority projects to build an interconnected regional electricity market, as well as specific actions to boost renewables and investment in energy efficiency in a region with vast growth potential in these areas. National roadmaps for improving trading arrangements in the region were also agreed.
In addition, the Connecting Europe Facility Grant Agreement for the Krk LNG Terminal in Croatia was tentatively signed.
Looking ahead, Ministers reconfirmed their commitment to rapidly complete the remaining CESEC priority gas projects, and adopted an updated action plan on gas market and regulatory aspects, setting out progress made since September 2016.
The meeting also saw the launch of two new working groups of the gas transmission system operators: one on the implementation of reverse flow on the Trans-Balkan pipeline system, and the other on the so-called "Vertical Corridor" between Bulgaria, Greece, Romania and Hungary; both to be facilitated by the European Commission.
The CESEC ongoing priority gas projects are: the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (gas pipeline from Greece to Italy via Albania and the Adriatic sea); the Interconnector between Greece and Bulgaria; the Interconnector between Bulgaria and Serbia; the reinforcement of the Bulgarian transmission system; the reinforcement of the Romanian transmission system (part of the "BRUA" corridor); the LNG terminal in Krk, Croatia; and the LNG evacuation system towards Hungary. Other possible projects include: a connection of off-shore Romanian gas to the Romanian grid and enhancement of the national system; a new Greek LNG terminal; and the interconnection between Croatia and Serbia.
In September 2016, in Budapest, CESEC's scope of cooperation was expanded further to include electricity, energy efficiency and renewable energies, recognising it makes no sense to address gas in isolation and that the key to security of supply in the region is a comprehensive energy strategy. Examples of electricity priority projects include: the enhancement of the transmission capacity between Bulgaria, Romania and Greece; the enhancement of the transmission capacity along the East-West corridor from Italy to Romania via the Balkans; electricity connections between Hungary and Serbia; and infrastructures supporting the integration of the Ukraine and Moldova power systems into the European electricity market.
With regards to renewables in CESEC countries, an assessment of the renewable energy potential in the region by 2030 and 2050 will be carried out and best practices and financing tools for the development of renewable energies will be promoted. On energy efficiency, the focus will be on financing and the use of financial instruments to mobilise private financing as well as on ways to support the development of projects.
The move is likely to provoke an unhappy response from Russian President Vladimir Putin, as he presses ahead with Arctic resource development plans.
Despite Russia, the US, and Britain, the EU is also pressing ahead with its funded initiatives to finance a low-carbon future and €181.9 million will go to projects in the field of environment and resource efficiency, nature and biodiversity, and environmental governance and information.
In line with the European Commission's circular economy package, projects will help Member States in their transition to a more circular economy. Project examples include: testing an Italian prototype that could cost-effectively convert petrol cars into hybrid vehicles, creating bio-based products from wastewater sludge in the Netherlands, and applying a new biological treatment to remove pesticides and nitrates from water in southern Spain.
Other projects will support the implementation of the Action Plan for Nature, in particular the management of Nature 2000 sites. Species protection is another focus, such as in the Slovenian cross-border project to help the survival of a highly endangered Alpine lynx species.
In the area of climate action, the EU will invest €40.2 million to support climate change adaptation, mitigation and governance and information projects. Selected projects support the EU's target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.
LIFE funding will also help improve the resilience of one of Europe's busiest waterways, the Scheldt Estuary in Belgium, develop tools to forecast desert dust storms, and counteract the heat island effect in cities.
Environment & Resource Efficiency projects will mobilise €134.6 million, of which the EU will provide €73.0 million. These projects cover actions in five thematic areas: air, environment and health, resource efficiency, waste, and water. The 15 resource efficiency projects alone will mobilise €37.9 million to help in Europe's transition to a more circular economy.
Nature & Biodiversity projects support the implementation of the Action Plan for Nature, the Birds and Habitats Directives and the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020. They have a total budget of €135.5 million, of which the EU will contribute €90.9 million.
Environmental Governance and Information projects will raise awareness on environmental matters. They have a total budget of €30.2 million, of which the EU will contribute €18 million.
Climate Change Adaptation projects will mobilise €42.6 million, of which the EU will provide €20.6 million. These action grants are awarded to projects in six thematic areas: ecosystem-based adaptation, health and wellbeing, mountain/island areas adaptation focusing on the agriculture sector, urban adaptation/planning, vulnerability assessments/adaptation strategies, and water (including flood management, coastal areas and desertification).
Climate Change Mitigation projects have a total budget of €25.7 million, of which the EU will contribute €13.6 million. These action grants are awarded to best practice, pilot and demonstration projects in three thematic areas: industry, greenhouse gas accounting/reporting, and land use/forestry/agriculture.
Climate Governance and Information projects will improve governance and raise awareness of climate change. They have a total budget of €10.4 million, of which the EU will contribute €6 million.
The LIFE programme is the EU's funding instrument for the environment and climate action. It has been running since 1992 and has co-financed more than 4 500 projects across the EU and in third countries, mobilising over €9 billion and contributing over €4 billion to the protection of the environment and climate.
Some 1100 projects are ongoing.
The budget for the LIFE Programme for 2014–2020 is set at €3.4 billion in current prices, and has a sub-programme for environment and a sub-programme for climate action.