European commission vice president says he is pleased with the promise of zero deforestation
Frans Timmermans — Foto: Divulgação
“The eyes of the world are turned to Brazil”, says Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice President of the European Commission, and leader of the European Union international climate negotiations. The Dutchman, who is on a two-day visit to the country, wants to hear from the Lula administration what the plans to contain deforestation are, visit the Amazon, and initiate talks for COP28, the UN conference on climate change to be held in December in the United Arab Emirates.
Mr. Timmermans is also in charge of the debate on the European Green Deal at the European Commission, the executive branch of the block. The environmental agenda today is an economic agenda, and this was clear in the latest movements of the European Union, which is usually in the forefront of this issue and is concluding two legislations that affect Brazil — the one that wants to curb the importation of commodities linked to deforestation and the one that will adopt a mechanism for adjusting the carbon border.
The regulations have been viewed with anxiety by developing countries. “The climate crisis is a global crisis, and we can’t solve it by pushing emissions elsewhere,” he says, admitting that what is driving deforestation is the demand from markets like the EU for commodities like cocoa, coffee, palm oil, beef, and soy. “This new law will be holding us accountable for our consumption patterns,” he notes.
About the border tax on carbon from products, he says it is neither punitive nor protectionist. “We have done our best to design it in a way that respects global trade rules,” he says, adding that the system focuses on cement, iron and steel, aluminum, fertilizers, electricity, and hydrogen.
“Renewable hydrogen will be an essential component of the future clean industry,” he acknowledges. Some industries such as steelmaking, chemicals, or long-distance trucks cannot become electric and need an energy carrier. That’s where hydrogen comes in. “It’s the rock star of the energy transition,” says Mr. Timmermans.
In recent years, and forcefully at recent COPs, the European Union has said it needs to broaden the donor base for climate finance. The UN Climate and Biodiversity conventions say it is the industrialized countries that are responsible for providing funds, but the Europeans argue that the world is not the same as it was 30 years ago. “Every country that is part of today’s industrial and economic elite can and must contribute to keep our planet a safe home for humanity,” argues Mr. Timmermans.
Mr. Timmermans recalls that G20 countries are responsible for 80% of emissions and “must improve their climate commitments.” In Brasilia, the European Commission vice president is expected to hold bilateral talks with Vice President Geraldo Alckmin and Ministers Marina Silva (Environment), Silvio Almeida (Human Rights), and Sonia Guajajara (Indigenous Peoples) before going to Belém. He will also visit Colombia and Mexico.
Before leaving, he gave an interview, in writing, to Valor. See below the main parts of it:
Valor: What are the goals of your visit to Brazil? How can European Union collaboration happen during Lula’s administration?
Frans Timmermans: This is the first time I will be in Brazil as executive vice president of the European Commission. I have already been here as a Dutch foreign minister and even lived in São Paulo when my father was the Dutch consul in the city. Right now, the eyes of the world are on Brazil. I was happy that I already had the opportunity to meet President Lula at the end of 2022, still as president-elect. We talked for a long time about the opportunities for the EU and Brazil to work together, including in the fight against deforestation, and about Brazil’s candidacy to host COP30. The desire to host the global climate conference in Belém and the decision to submit this candidacy soon after the inauguration say a lot about the government’s great ambitions for climate and environment.
Valor: President Lula and Minister Marina Silva are committed to zero deforestation, but Brazil will need help, especially after the Bolsonaro years. How can Europe help?
Mr. Timmermans: They have many ideas on how to stop deforestation. They know that it is in Brazil’s interest to do this. During my visit, first of all, I intend to hear what the new government is planning. The Amazon is an ecosystem of global importance, but how the forest is protected in Brazil is a sovereign decision of your country. I am happy that the government is so strongly committed to zero deforestation. You can be sure that the European Union is seriously considering how to help Brazil achieve this.
Valor: How and when the legislation of not importing goods produced by deforestation will come into operation? Although it is understood that the law goes in the right direction, not to stimulate deforestation, some people see it as protectionism and a barrier to the European market. What do you think about this?
Mr. Timmermans: Deforestation and forest degradation are important drivers of climate change and biodiversity loss. But what is driving deforestation? It’s the demand from markets like the EU for commodities like cocoa, coffee, palm oil, beef, and soy. So, this new EU law will be holding us accountable for our consumption patterns. More than 1 million European citizens have demanded that we do this so that our consumption in Europe does not cause environmental damage elsewhere. The law applies to European and non-European traders alike, and we take care to ensure that it is fully compliant with international trade rules. The goods I have mentioned, but also wood and rubber, can no longer be sold on the EU market if they are produced by deforestation. Once the law is fully adopted, there will be a year and a half to implement the new rules.
Valor: The European Parliament approved in December the first border tax in the world, the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM). Will it be valid only for European companies outside Europe or for all? Will there be a test time and priority sectors? The measure is also seen as protectionist.
Mr. Timmermans: With CBAM, we want to avoid “carbon leakage.” I mean that efforts within the EU to reduce greenhouse gas emissions must not lead to Europe exporting emissions to other parts of the world. The climate crisis is global, and we cannot solve it by pushing emissions elsewhere. We also want to encourage clean industrial production in other countries. The result is simple: the less carbon that is incorporated into a product, the less CBAM will apply. CBAM is not punitive and it is not protectionist. We have done our best to design it in a way that respects global trade rules (WTO). The system focuses on products: cement, iron and steel, aluminum, fertilizers, electricity, and hydrogen. It will be introduced gradually over the next few years. In the transition phase, which will begin in October, importers of goods under CBAM will only have to report the greenhouse gas emissions incorporated in their imports; there will be no costs. Only after the transition period will they have to pay for the embedded carbon emissions. This price will be equivalent to the carbon price of products manufactured in the EU.
Valor: In the climate COPs, the EU has advocated the expansion of the number of donors to climate finance. Developing countries understand that this is rewriting the Climate Convention and even the Paris Agreement.
Mr. Timmermans: Every country that is part of today’s industrial and economic elite can and must contribute to keeping our planet a safe home. We cannot base new financing arrangements on an economic division that made sense in 1992. That would only allow countries that are now major economic powers to say, “Oh, we are part of the developing world, so we have no legal, moral or political obligation to contribute.” That is why the EU was so adamant in Sharm el-Sheikh [host of the COP27 in Egypt] to prevent the Damages Fund from being based on the same treaty article as the previous funds. This is not rewriting the convention. We are simply using other parts of the treaty. We need to do this if we want to achieve the necessary change and bring these funds to the countries that cannot cope with the climate crisis on their own. We need to bring in international and development banks and be able to attract private financing. That is the only way we can succeed.
Valor: There is a race in the world for the production of hydrogen, with more than 60 countries getting ready. Is there a demand for so much supply?
Timmermans: Absolutely. Renewable hydrogen will be an essential component of the future clean industry. Some industries such as steel, chemicals, long-distance trucks, and buses can’t go electric and need an energy carrier. Hydrogen will be critical in our industrial future. It is truly the rock star of the energy transition. Right now, we are living in the dilemma of who comes first. The industry wants to switch to hydrogen but is still reluctant to invest because they are not sure there will be enough supply. Potential producers, on the other hand, are not sure because they want to know if there will be buyers. We are developing a hydrogen bank in Europe to help fill this gap. We are also looking at cooperation with countries that are developing their renewable energy sector, to see if we can help transfer knowledge and create clean industrial value chains around the world.
*By Daniela Chiaretti — São Paulo
Source: Valor International