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‘Absolutely necessary we bring aviation into our ETS system’

European Commission’s Karl Falkenberg talks about environmental issues
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First Published: Thu, Oct 25 2012. 05 47 PM IST
Karl Falkenberg, director general for environment with the European Commission. Photo: AFP
Karl Falkenberg, director general for environment with the European Commission. Photo: AFP
New Delhi: Karl Falkenberg, director general for environment with the European Commission, was in India for the Conference of Parties (CoP) on Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) in Hyderabad. On a visit to New Delhi for a conference, Falkenberg said it was time to start measuring the external effects of environment on our production processes.
The European Union (EU) will ratify the Nagoya Protocol in “the next few weeks,” he said in an interview. On the controversial carbon tax on airlines, Falkenberg said it is “absolutely necessary that we bring in aviation into our ETS (emission trading scheme) system.” He added that including natural capital to measure the growth of a country is becoming increasingly important. Edited excerpts:
What would be the first step to factor in environmental concerns into policies?
If we want to develop sustainable policies then we need to address the three pillars of sustainability: The economic one, where GDP (gross domestic product) would be an appropriate indicator; the social pillar; and an environmental pillar. And on the social side, we work on proxies like the number of jobless, etc., but we also are beginning to have more perceived indicators like happiness indicators. And on the environmental side, we need to look into measuring our natural capitals and measuring the external effects of our present production processes so that we can count those also into our global appreciation of our economic activity on this planet.
Is the world any closer to including this natural capital as part of other economic indices?
I think, for the moment, Europe is probably spearheading this reflection. We have a process in Europe underway. Australia is looking very closely into valuing natural capitals, and there are other individual examples. But I don’t think we have any example in the world where either on the social side or on the environmental side, someone has yet established a single indicator that would have comparable value as GDP for economic success.
What is the importance of valuing natural capital or biodiversity?
I think it is a key for policy making. I very often am questioned when I argue in favour of monetizing, because people tell me that nature has a value per say, cultural, ethical value and putting just money on it is not appropriate. But if we want to design policy that actually gives the same importance to our natural assets as it gives to our social wellbeing, as it gives to our industrial, agricultural production, then we need to have indicators that speak the same language and that language is monetized.
About the biodiversity conference, what are the main concerns?
I think the protocol on access and benefit-sharing is the success plan, together with the strategic plan of the CoP two years ago in Nagoya. A number of countries have ratified. EU, for example, has transformed or transposed the protocol in its own legislation. Here in Hyderabad, we have heard that India has ratified the protocol, so are a number of other countries and I think this is very good news. The more difficult discussions in the CoP here in India are now about the third element, which is resource mobilization to put into practice in all of the countries of the world, the Aichi targets – the targets for biodiversity that we agreed at Nagoya.
There has been a global hue and cry over the carbon aviation tax being levied by the EU. Your thoughts?
I think it is absolutely necessary that we bring in aviation into our ETS (emission trading scheme) system. Aviation, or even transport, in the wider sense is the only sector in Europe where CO2 emissions year after year continue to grow. When all other sectors have started to slow down, to take a downward curve, then there is no reason why every sector of the economy will make an effort, but aviation would not.
Do you think it is fair to tax developing countries without taking into account the “common but differentiated responsibility” (CBDR) principle, which is enshrined in global climate change agreements?
I think it’s fair because we are not taxing developing countries, we’re taxing planes or plane operators who are polluting the atmosphere and the atmosphere doesn’t know any CBDR. In the atmosphere, every tonne of CO2 counts and, therefore, every tonne of CO2 has to make a contribution.
Is the disagreement on the resource mobilization issue at the CoP reaching the same level as it has on climate change talks?
I think it still is at a very different level. In climate change, in many ways we failed at Copenhagen because countries were not prepared to take on commitments on climate change, mitigation commitments, without there being immediately a decision on the financial means. In Nagoya, we managed to get acceptance of a strategic plan where countries agreed to 20 key biodiversity targets and committed to implement these in the perspective of 2020 and we agreed that the resource mobilization would be addressed only two years later. The reason for this is I think that everyone was aware that there is already a lot of money flowing internationally to support biodiversity.
The EU is spending €3 billion of its development assistance in areas related very directly to biodiversity, not necessarily the core objective being biodiversity. And there are a lot of international funds that are also active in this area. So many countries recognize that there is already a real, measurable flow of international resource to help them address their individual biodiversity challenges. Now, here in the CoP, this comes to a little of a head-on issue and the problem that we have to face here is that we agreed two years ago that we would define targets for resource mobilization but based on robust baseline and comprehensive reporting schemes by members. Out of the 160-odd members of the CBD, only 25 have, over the last two years, effectively reported and indicated their baseline. Now, that means we don’t have the basis on which we could define targets... We wanted to indicate here we can still give an indication that if the baseline work progresses well, we will get to targets and in the meantime, parties will continue to support each other.
But developing countries keep stressing on the fact that funding to conserve biodiversity is at the core of the negotiations.
I think first and foremost, everyone should be responsible and looking after its own biodiversity. We continue to lose biodiversity in Europe and we need to address it. And we are taking measures of defining protected land, defining protected maritime areas, making sure that we deal with invasive species, further loss of our biodiversity. Other countries have the same responsibility and what we are talking about in the convention is to see to what extent there needs to be a top-up. Because while we are responsible for each of our biodiversity, we are collectively sharing biodiversity on this planet and we will not have a safe biodiversity haven in Europe alone, if neighbouring regions are not at the same level. So we have collective responsibility and, therefore, I think it is generally accepted that there may be a top-up for the weaker countries to make sure that their biodiversity is also protected, restored where it is being damaged.
When will the EU ratify the Nagoya Protocol?
I see that happen in the very next weeks as we develop our internal legislation. We have the ambition of making sure that we have a domestic legislation in place when our member states ratify it. Because from the day of ratification, they are bound by the protocol and without the domestic, legal instrument, you could not ratify, so we need to bring this in line. We will ratify at the EU level, but all member states will equally ratify because they are all signatories and members of the convention on biodiversity.
Developing countries always claim they have not being historical polluters, hence they shouldn’t be paying the price for emission reduction. Don’t you think that argument stands?
I don’t. I think it’s too short to say that CO2 emissions come only from industrialised countries because it’s only due to industrialization. Agriculture plays a big role, deforestation plays a big role, and we have seen both agricultural activity and deforestation also in many developing countries. But I think what is important to me is that you accept that you no longer pollute when you have alternative technologies. I think it’s one thing that a hundred years ago, people have started burning fossil fuels not knowing what damage they were doing to the atmosphere and to the planet. But continuing to burn them today, when we know the consequences and when we know that there are renewable energies, that can as effectively provide the energy that we all need. I think we need to focus on the future and not on the past.
But then most of the developing countries want funding from the so-called developed world to switch to cleaner technology.
I think again it would be useful to compare different countries. I know that India is supporting kerosene as a policy of supporting its poor. I know that in Bangladesh, instead of subsidizing kerosene, they are trying to subsidise solar panels; that’s an intelligent form to help your poor to be using clean technology rather than to subsidise fossil fuel-based energy production that has all the damaging consequences on the climate. So I think that every country needs to reassess.
Not just the developing countries, we in the developed countries (too) need to take a huge U-turn. We accept that there is differentiated responsibility to the extent that we accept to turn down. We simply want from developing countries that their emissions should not exponentially grow, but they also should start taking a downward turn. And fossil fuels, also in developing countries, should be replaced by renewable energy forms and these renewable energy forms are good investment because they bring good returns and they help the development of the country.
I think there will be funding. One is talking about a REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) plus fund, one is talking about redistributing revenues or taxes that our trading systems are going to collect on the emission of CO2. We will redistribute some of this money to the weaker actors on the planet. That process is ongoing and I think it will only be conclusive when there is effective commitment by countries to make an effort to reduce. Money without commitment is unlikely. When commitment and money come together, that’s the day we’ll have a deal.
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First Published: Thu, Oct 25 2012. 05 47 PM IST