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EU's historic 'Fit for 55' proposals announced

Anna-Marie McAlinden, Head of Energy at Mills Selig considers the EU’s historic ‘Fit for 55’ proposals and their potential impacts post Brexit in the North.

Last week the European Commission published its “Fit for 55” proposals, a package of proposals aimed at ensuring that the EU bloc delivers on its ambition to reach emissions reductions of at least 55% by 2030, and its overall commitment to achieving net zero by 2050 at the latest.

The proposals are radical, but they remain just that - proposals. To become law, they will go through extensive debate within Member States and at EU level over the coming months. NI, despite Brexit, will also be impacted by these proposals as a result of its shared land border and its participation in the Single Electricity Market (“SEM”) with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state.

To understand how far reaching the EU’s Fit for 55 proposals are, it is worth noting that the EU, already a world leader in emissions reductions, has to date reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 24% from 1990 levels. The new proposals would put the EU bloc on track to reach its goal of 55% reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 – requiring a further massive 31% reduction in emissions in just 9 short years, necessitating a truly radical societal transformation.

Twelve proposals were put forward, including the following:

(a) Tighter emissions limits on cars, effectively signalling the end of the production of vehicles with combustion engines by 2035. The proposals mandate EU member states build new road infrastructure, re-charging points and hydrogen refuelling stations to support e-mobility. The Commission has suggested that this will mean charging and fuelling points at regular intervals on major highways (so every 60km for electric charging and every 150 km for hydrogen refuelling). Northern Ireland’s transport and trade both into and out of the Republic will necessarily be impacted by these changes.

(b) The present EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) puts a price on carbon and lowers the cap on emissions from certain sectors every year. It has been effective in driving down emissions in these sectors and the Commission is proposing to drive down the cap even further, significantly this ETS will also include shipping and phase out allowances for aviation. In addition, a new ETS will be set up to address the lack of emissions reductions in road transport and buildings.

(c) The Renewable Energy Directive will set more ambitious targets. The proposal would increase the target for energy use from renewable resources from 32% to 40% by 2030. In addition, renewables would also need to make up 49% of the energy used in buildings by 2030. Without a similarly ambitious and supportive policy/legislative context moving forward, the Northern Ireland renewables sector is likely to fall well behind and lose investment to the Republic of Ireland.

(d) In an overdue move welcomed by environmental groups, the Commission aims to make cleaner fuels and renewables more attractive by changing the way energy is taxed. Shipping and aviation fuels will be included in this proposal, and aircraft and ships will have to have access to a clean electricity supply in major ports and airports. These requirements will only apply to intra EU flights, but indirect impacts on the cost of flights to and from the EU and impacts on our own ports and airports cannot be ruled out.

These are hugely ambitious plans that will impact every citizen of the EU in most aspects of their lives. However, so too will they impact every person in NI. Dr Thomas Muinzer of Environmental Justice Network Ireland highlights:

“Northern Ireland is in a difficult position, in part because the island of Ireland operates a so-called Integrated Single Electricity Market, which is subject to a range of complicated EU rules. This was fine when both were part of the EU, but now that Northern Ireland has left, an unsuitable democratic deficit has opened up because the SEM still operates in the North but the public there have no input into EU rules anymore, unlike those in the Republic. It looks like the EU may well change the SEM further via Fit for 55, with no direct Northern Irish input.”

The EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans has admitted that the Fit for 55 proposals mean that “we’re going to ask a lot of our citizens” - at least those citizens have a right to answer back.

Editorial prepared by: Anna-Marie McAlinden, Partner, Mills Selig

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