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COP27: can Europe u-turn from the ‘road to climate hell’?

The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (known as COP27) kicked off in Sharm-El-Sheikh, Egypt last week with plenary speeches by Alok Sharma, the President of last year’s COP26 and Sameh Shoukry, the President of this year’s COP. The annual two-week conference marks the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

This year, the event takes place in the backdrop of the biggest geopolitical shake-up since the Cold War, whilst the world faces an urgent need to implement the commitments set in recent years, to u-turn from the “highway to climate hell”, as emphasised by the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres.

In the context of COP27, “implementation” ought to be defined by three key objectives. First, concrete actions need to be negotiated to limit the global temperature rise within 1.5 degrees. Second, progress on mitigation, adaptation, finance and loss and damage needs to be cemented. Third, the delivery of transparency, accountability and environmental integrity must be enhanced.

“Friends, today a new era begins – and we begin to do things differently,”said the UN Climate Change Executive Secretary, Simon Stiell. “Paris gave us the agreement. Katowice and Glasgow gave us the plan. Sharm-El-Sheikh shifts us to implementation. No one can be a mere passenger on this journey. This is the signal that times have changed.”

The CEE region takes the driver’s seat(s)

Joining the over 100 world leaders, the Polish President, Andrzej Duda, the Czech Prime Minister, Petr Fiala, the Croatian Prime Minister, Andrej Plenković and Romania’s President, Klaus Iohannis are among the leaders from Central and Eastern Europe attending the conference. During his two-day stay, President Duda raised the importance of energy security and shared his country’s perspective and experiences in the context of the Just Transition.

“[Poland] has achieved the adopted gas emissions reduction targets by 2020, it is actively developing the system of renewable energy sources as well as the low–carbon civil nuclear power program. Poland is promoting electro-mobility and energy efficiency and is developing new technologies. Our country is actively engaged in order to meet the goals set for us all,” said President Duda in his national statement speech.

On Just Transition, the President said that we must “remember: transition is there to serve man, not man to serve transition.”

“As I said yesterday during our discussion of Just Transition and now I am saying this on behalf of millions of my compatriots who are not going to ask us, during the upcoming winter, how many of our ambitious climate goals we have achieved,” he continued. “What they are going to ask is why the energy resources are so expensive and why their living standards have dropped so dramatically.”

“Transition that puts men at the centre of changes has to be cost-effective and serve energy security,” the Polish President added. “By adopting the Katowice Rulebook as well as the Solidarity and Just Transition Declaration at COP24 in Poland, we have defined a framework for these actions. Today we must implement it in a consistent manner.”

At COP24 in Katowice, Poland, UNFCCC Parties signed the Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration, demanding more progress on addressing the vulnerability of labour markets in carbon-intensive sectors facing transition risks. During COP26, the Glasgow Just Transition Declaration was signed by over 30 countries – placing further emphasis on the need to ensure no worker or community is left behind.

On a separate occasion, President Duda said that Poland is a country “that will have to bear high costs due to the transformation. We emphasise that we must do it in a rational and fair manner.”

Earning a ‘clean ticket to heaven’

The leaders of the Czech Republic, Croatia and the EU joined President Duda in underlining the volatile international security situation and its impact on energy security and climate change.

Separately, Prime Minister Plenković highlighted his country’s continental leadership in renewable energy.

“Two-thirds of electricity and energy production comes from renewable sources, which also provide one-third of our total, final energy consumption,” he said, adding that his country will establish a National Centre for Climate and Ecological Transition as a “centre of expertise for all stakeholders”.

Whilst Prime Minister Fiala underlined his country’s role in the EU Presidency and the bloc-wide effort in accelerating the energy transition with the EU’s flagship REPowerEU initiative. Together with President Klaus, Mr Fiala also co-hosted an event on promoting climate change education as part of COP27.

“Let us not take the highway to hell – let us earn the clean ticket to heaven,” said the European Commission President, in a separate speech.

“For Europe, the answer is REPowerEU,” she added. According to President von der Leyen, if the EU’s new target of renewable energy production is met, the bloc can meet a new all-time record of over 100 gigawatts (GW) of additional renewable capacity.

The Commission President said that the EU is working closely with the Global South in accelerating the hydrogen industry: “the European Union is signing new hydrogen partnerships with Egypt, with Namibia and with Kazakhstan,” she said. “That is why we are supporting partners such as Vietnam and South Africa to decarbonise their economies. We need to reach the Paris goal. And Europe is staying the course.”

Closer regional cooperation with Equinor in sight?

The Polish President and Czech Prime Minister also held separate meetings with the President and CEO of the Norwegian oil and gas company, Equinor. Following the meeting, Mr Fiala tweeted: “gegotiations with the executive director of the Norwegian company Equinor Anders Opedal. Norway was an important supplier of natural gas to the Czech Republic in the past, thus we talked to the director about how we can get back together.”

Last month, the Polish PGNIG signed a 10-year gas deal with the Equinor Group via the recently constructed Baltic Pipe pipeline.

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