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Entrevista con Yvon Slingenberg sobre Negociaciones Climáticas Internacionales

Directora, DG CLIMA, Comisión Europea
JOS DELBEKE: Hello. I have today with us Yvon Slingerberg, who is Director in DC Clima at the European Commission, of course. Yvon, what kind of areas is your Directorate covering?
YVON SLINGERBERG: In my Directorate, the DG Clima, we do the international dimension of climate action, so therefore the negotiations of the Paris Agreement, any follow-up action under the Paris Agreement, implementation, very important, of commitments that parties have taken, our own but also in particular our partners’, but we also do mainstreaming of climates issues in other EU policies, regional policy, agricultural policy a little bit. And we do a major focus on adaptation because, unfortunately, however much we try to fight climate change, and we will and we are convinced in doing that, we do see impacts of climate happening and we also will need to get ready, societies ready for that. So, we are also working quite a bit on that.
JOS DELBEKE: Very good. You mentioned the Paris Agreement. Of course, we were living through the Kyoto Protocol, now we have the Paris Agreement, what is so unique about the Paris Agreement?
YVON SLINGERBERG: The Paris Agreement is absolutely unique in that it covers the whole world. All countries have signed up to it and, of course, from a legal perspective, the novelty is really that the commitments under this agreement are you could say voluntary, but they are nationally determined, that is the official term, nationally determined contributions, but it means that the countries have proposed them themselves and will therefore be very committed to deliver on them and to implement these commitments and it covers the whole world, so all parties will contribute to reducing emissions globally.
This is a global problem we can only solve together and, of course, very, very important that the emerging economies, which cover the biggest chunk of greenhouse gas emissions, are also contributing to this fight and even that the countries that are not yet emerging economies but will have important economic choices to make, that we show them there is a low-carbon economic pathway that they can follow for their development. So, this is the common approach to deliver on the goals which is to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions and absorption of carbon globally by everybody contributing, so that we fight the most disastrous consequences of climate change.
So, the goal and everybody contributing is absolutely a novel, I would say, approach which we hope will tackle this global problem.
JOS DELBEKE: But you mentioned the nationally determined contributions, are they all delivering on their promises that they were making under the Paris Agreement? Because here and there I hear worrying sounds as if some are doing a lot, but others are dragging their feet.
YVON SLINGERBERG: This is of course going to be the ultimate test, how parties then really do deliver on their commitments. I think the Paris Agreement does provide a very good framework for keeping track of what people are doing. Yes, the commitments are voluntary, but at the same time there are binding rules for everybody to adhere to in terms of monitoring the emissions, monitoring the actions and reporting on it and that will trigger a discussion on how are parties implementing and what are the bottlenecks, what are the opportunities and to really also have a shared approach in terms of implementation.
So, of course there are political always, you know, preferences and sensitivities, we see it in different countries, but I think it is still the case that people acknowledge, you know, the big challenge, but to do it together in this common framework that is the Paris Agreement and to share the experience. The transparency is going to be absolutely crucial and the transparency is then of course linked to support.
You know, if we see that countries are struggling, be it on the monitoring side, on the modelling side, what is my projection for the future, what are my economic pathways that I need to follow, what are my investment decisions, then we can also look at capacity building, reorienting our development cooperation and all our financial instruments towards that common goal and that low-carbon transition. So, yes, it’s I won’t say early days, the Paris Agreement is in force but of course it will start becoming fully operational as of 2021 and we need to work together to make it happen.
So, again, I think showcasing that it is feasible will be absolutely crucial, that it is still going to be a very positive growth trajectory, so to say, but a low-carbon growth trajectory.
JOS DELBEKE: But still there is President Trump, he made clear that he may want to leave the Paris Agreement. We will see what he is going to do ultimately, but that was a worrying sign, is he going to be able to derail the process you think?
YVON SLINGERBERG: I think you’re right, Jos, I cannot deny this was a major setback when this administration announced that they intend to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. At the same time, I think we see, ever since he made the announcement and up until now, a confirmation and a determination of the rest of the global community to stick to this new agreement which has been worked on for so long. You know, it didn’t just appear overnight, it has really been a common effort. And I think we also see that, as I hinted at before, yes, administrations can, you know, maybe be more or less committed, in the particular case of the Trump administration, but it’s also in society at large.
You know, you really see economic actors, business, of course civil society, the cities, the non-federal authorities, if I can call it like that, very, very much committed to this process. You know, in the Paris Agreement we have the legal framework, but we also have what we call the Climate Action Agenda which is all the non-state actors coming together and increasing, you know, emission reductions through different actions, but also adaptation and resilience actions, and I think that is what has already given us reassurance that, you know, it is not with the Trump administration announcing its withdrawal that this will make it unravel. We see government-reconfirmed commitment and non-state action across the board, including in the United States.
JOS DELBEKE: So, so far the United States has not left the process but they were still present at the international negotiations, in Katowice last year they were there, were they derailing the process? How did they behave around the negotiation table?
YVON SLINGERBERG: Well, it’s actually rather interesting. I mean, of course, these are very experienced representatives of State Department, etcetera, and they have been very instrumental in getting a good outcome. They have excellent lawyers and I think what they see is that it is in the benefit of all to have this common framework, the transparency, so that we don’t end up in this dichotomy, which I’m sure you must have discussed that we had in the Kyoto Protocol whereby some economies, you know, developed countries do something and the rest of the world just, you know, doesn’t really have the same level of commitment.
So, I think they still had a very strong interest to make sure that these rules that we have been able to agree in Katowice provide this common framework. Common rules, yes, with, you know, a certain flexibility for some countries to build up their capacities and I think that was their interest, you know, that this will remain in place. And then, okay, we will see with future administrations whether they will want to, you know, first of all really withdraw and/or come back, but the basic fact that we have this overall global agreement and such clear transparency rules for everybody is of course also still recognized as crucial by them.
JOS DELBEKE: But the European Union cannot sit back and look what is happening, are there diplomatic efforts to keep everybody together? Are there tools that the European Union could use to keep the multilateral tradition still alive, because we are strongly committed to that tradition?
YVON SLINGERBERG: Very much so, Jos. I think it’s very clear from the side of the EU we recognize that, first of all, we need to maintain global leadership in all our multilateral fora and the discussions, you know, of course in the UN context, etcetera, but at the same time to be coherent and to use all the instruments we have, be it our free-trade agreements, our bilateral policy dialogues, our regional policy dialogues and our cooperation, we use to call it development cooperation, but of course it’s more and more also becoming economic cooperation, business-to-business, civil society-to- civil society.
And that is where we have been working over the policies and we will continue to do so to focus much more on coherence in, you know, this transition to this low-carbon society needs to be the foundation for all our interaction with these parties, you know, and we cannot, we have all committed to the Paris Agreement. So, this is our common goal and how, what does that mean for specific interaction on, again, I think a good example is trade but also politically, you know, and every time to recall, yes, we adhere to this common objective and to use all our instruments in diplomatic terms and in economic terms.
JOS DELBEKE: So, I hear you saying finance and trade. Now, on finance we made several time promises, the developed countries at large promised a hundred billion, is delivery happening on these big numbers?
YVON SLINGERBERG: Certainly on the side of the EU, it is delivering. We have lived up to our promises. We are on a very stable track to increase our contribution to the promises we have been making. Every year EU climate finance, as we call it, has been going up. We have over the year 2017, which is the most recent year, we have provided a little bit over 20 billion in support for developing countries. At the same time, we are very firm that it’s not public support that will actually make the transition happen. So, we are also working very closely with, you know, the financial sector, of course notably the World Bank and multilateral development banks, to leverage private sector money in.
Also with the financial sector itself in terms of directing them to where is it that you can make investments that are actually going to be sustainable and supporting, you know, the low-carbon transition and there is a lot of interest. So, that is very good but there needs to be this open and constructive dialogue to say okay, how can the financial sector also contribute to this. But certainly the EU, I think, is living up to its promises and that’s what we hope will ensure that we can have this dialogue about again, you know, access to finance, what are the bottlenecks, how can we bring these different sources together.
JOS DELBEKE: Now, the scientists have been saying, and we agreed in the Paris Agreement, that we should stay well below 2C and the latest report of the IPCC was 1.5 maximum. So, what are we doing to bring all these efforts in line? Because, as we saw in the course, we are not yet on the track towards the well below 2, let alone the 1.5?
YVON SLINGERBERG: Again, very pertinent points. It is very reassuring that in fact this was already recognized when the Paris Agreement was being negotiated. People saw that the nationally determined contributions that were being prepared and that were coming in were not going to ensure that the goal, the temperature goal was going to be delivered, that we would stay below 2, let alone, you know be on track towards 1.5.
So, there is this what we call ambition mechanism within the Paris Agreement whereby every five years we take stock all together of where we are combining the latest science with, you know, results, what has been happening already in terms of emission reductions and, of course, last year in October we have received from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change their latest assessment of what it means when we see climate change happening to a point of 1.5 versus 2 and there are very dire consequences.
I think this report made this very visible and tangible for people to understand, okay, what extra effort would we need to make to get to 1.5 and what will be the benefits and it is a very compelling story. If you look at that, you see that, you know, this ambition mechanism does have its role. We will need to be looking at stepping up ambition and stepping up our emission reductions. Again, I think the European Union tries to lead in that because we have proposed what we call our long-term strategy for a climate-neutral Europe by 2050, and the purpose of that is to say, yes, we will need to show the way to meet this 1.5 temperature goal.
We will need to go climate-neutral which is, you know, either zero greenhouse gas emissions or compensating it with some additional absorptions and removals, but to basically show to our partners in the world that this is again a positive economic agenda, that it is feasible because it’s only again it’s not Europe with our 10% emission that we contribute that we will solve the problem of climate change.
But if we can show to the world that we have the technologies, we have the business models, we have the political will, in particular, to go there and we can rally the investments in order to support that and still have, you know, well-being for the people and not necessarily lose out on, you know, our well-being and our standards that is the way we see that this can be tackled.
But the ambition mechanism in that sense, looking every time at science, what are the commitments made, what are the additional effort needed and to give that long-term prospective because that we think is absolutely key for the economy at large to know we will need to go climate-neutral by 2050 and all our investment decisions and, you know, behavioural decisions will need to be put in function of that goal.
JOS DELBEKE: But the EU decided to reduce its emissions at least with 40% in 2030. So, what is then the precise timetable to stepping up the ambition, as you are rightly indicating? Can we expect that next year or the year after or what is the timetable for delivering that process as a leader, so as to have a decent United Nations process enticing others to follow suit?
YVON SLINGERBERG: The timeline in the Paris Agreement itself is 2020 for every party to submit its long-term strategy, low emission development strategy and we will definitely as the EU want to adhere to that timeline. So, submission next year and that is where I think, you know, our proposal, our draft vision for this climate-neutral economy by 2050 having submitted that at the end of last year does provide us enough time, and that is what is happening this year, to have discussions in all different sectors of society.
Of course, here in Brussels it is also the different Councils of Ministers, be it Transport, Energy, Agriculture, Employment, Competitiveness, Foreign Affairs, all these different factions are looking into what it means to sign up to climate-neutral future and to then, you know, be ready with an endorsement, of course which will need to happen at heads of state and government level, hopefully later this year to then be on time to submit it to the UN. And at the same time we are already very actively discussing with our partners, be it in the G7 context and in the G20 but again in all our bilateral dialogues as well, that we expect other parties to also live up to that requirement, basically.
JOS DELBEKE: But I hear you saying the long-term strategy, but the precise targets for 2030, are they going to be reviewed as well and what is timetable related to that?
YVON SLINGERBERG: First of all, we have as the first effort at the moment the Paris Agreement was done and we had insured a ratification into force, we have put all our effort on putting in place the necessary mechanisms both legally and with the enabling framework to ensure that we are going to meet our own EU NDC which is this -40%, at least -40% by 2030. We have done all that and that has been a very positive process with the Member States and the European Parliament, so that clarity is there for 2030.
Of course, as you say, I mean once we have also provided and agreed on where it is we need to go by 2050 and this full climate neutrality, we may need to again look at the milestones, so, what is it for 2030, what is it for 2040 and how do we get to 2050. Now, the 2030 current legislative package is a very good, you know, foundation for that, but we should then also again come back and say okay, is there additional incentives so that after 2030 we can step up? Is there something where we would already be well advised to step up now?
So, inevitably that discussion will come, but I think it’s very important that, you know, we do now put all our efforts on implementing the measures and the policies that we have put in place for 2030 with the longer-term perspective and then come back and say okay, do we need to, you know, tighten things here or there or incentivize additional things. I think you have been discussing electrical vehicles, I’m sure these issues came up. So, if you want to really, with a long-term perspective, make the necessary incentives, yes, we may need to come back also to policies, measures, and maybe the 2030 milestone. JOS
DELBEKE: But at the end of the year, every year there is a huge climate negotiation, the Conference of the Parties as it is called, now next year it’s going to be in Chile, what is the plan? What is going to be the crucial element in Chile to cut through by the negotiators?
YVON SLINGERBERG: There are, you are right, I mean, whereas we did achieve a very important result in the last COP in Katowice, in COP24 having been able to agree on this whole rulebook for transparency, monitoring, reporting, etcetera, there are certain things which are still left to be discussed. Notably, the rules that will need to be in place in order to enable international carbon market, so that can be international emissions trading, it can also be more project-based cooperation, that is going to be the main topic of negotiations for the next COP.
We hope it will be agreed in an environmentally robust manner with robust rules where we have, again, full transparency, full accounting as to what is being sold and bought, let’s say, by those people who choose to go there because we do think it can ultimately help in enhancing ambition in, you know, looking at least-cost options across the globe, again, it being a global problem. Nevertheless, there are also many other items that will always be on the agenda.
It is about, again, you know, support, how is financial support coming along, how are people tackling the adaptation challenge, exchange of best practices and I think that is again a very interesting cross-fertilization, if I can call it like that, also with this Non-State Action agenda because there the more and more we can show that, you know, cities are tackling their transport, energy, probably also digitalization challenges, bringing those together showing it can lead to a low-carbon approach to things, that can then help governments gain confidence that this is actually going to be feasible, they will be able to attract the investments and the funding necessary to go down this track.
So, it is a combined agenda, I would say, yes some specific negotiating issues, but I think we will be focusing more and more, and I think that is also what Chile wants to do and also Costa Rica in the pre-COP, zoom in on, you know, real action on the ground, implementation, it links to your question, are people really implementing, so that we can then step up. That is the purpose.
JOS DELBEKE: Very interesting. Now there are two segments on which in the course
we were discussing as well: international navigation, the maritime sector, and international aviation. Two sectors where the emissions are growing very fast and some would say they are only partially covered by the Paris Agreement. Would you share that view and what are the international organizations responsible for these rapidly growing emissions from these sectors? How are we going to speak to them? How are we going to convince them to do more because otherwise climate neutrality by the second half of the century is going to be a fiction?
YVON SLINGERBERG: Certainly, if we want to reach the, you know, well below 2 temperature goal and towards 1.5, we will need to fully work with international maritime sector and the aviation sector because, as we all know, these sectors have very steep increasing emissions and we will need to tackle that. Now, so they are part of how we are going to achieve the Paris Agreement goals, then it has been maybe a little bit like delegated to the respective international organizations, the International Civil Aviation Organization, the ICAO, and the IMO, the International Maritime Organization, to come up with specific goals and milestones and measures. They go on a little bit different tracks. There have been discussions already for many years in ICAO.
Yes, there is a goal to become climate-neutral growth, to have climate-neutral growth as of 2020, which is a major challenge if you look at how the emissions in that sector are growing. So, now it is also about, okay, how is that going to be realized, which measures, can there be offsets, what would be, you know, the quality and the environmental integrity of any offsets and those are very important discussions to really make it possible for that sector also to contribute to the common goal. On the other hand, in the maritime context, we have the IMO that has also been looking at, you know, a strategy to achieve a long-term goal.
They have I think said they should also contribute to climate neutrality but there again it’s now turning to measures, what is it that in the maritime sector, is it biofuels, is it increased efficiency of ships, is it infrastructure, all these kinds of things. So, that is fairly positive, but I do agree with you, we need to pay very good attention to these sectors because otherwise emissions can get out of hand there and that would mean other sectors would need to carry the burden.
JOS DELBEKE: Of course, we saw a lot of activity in the streets following Greta Thunberg who was steering up the debate and the aviation sector was squarely in the attention. People are addressing the imbalance in having the fiscal treatment of the aviation sector vis-à-vis the other sectors in transport. So, how would you see that developing over time? Because the aviation sector in particular is being seen by the man in the street as receiving a free ride and at the same time they are responsible for a very rapid increase in emissions. How would you react to this reality?
YVON SLINGERBERG: Well, first of all, Jos, I think we have already in Europe made an effort to bring the aviation sector within our Emissions Trading System. This covers flights within Europe and the European Economic Area, so with Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, etcetera, we have not at the time been able to to expand this globally and therefore this debate that is currently happening is still a very useful one.
So, yes, we have capped emissions, if you want, under the EU ETS on aviation internal flights within Europe, but of course a lot of that emissions is actually coming from intercontinental flights, etcetera and I think it is fair that this discussion is taking place because the fuel being used by the aviation sector, kerosene, is not taxed and also there is no VAT on flight tickets. So, what exactly, what approach will appear, as in, you know, would be a complement to the ETS in that sector I think we need to discuss that.
It’s very good that there is awareness now of people, of course I also think that we have to acknowledge that people are not that keen to reduce their own number of flights, but so what is a fair contribution of that sector as compared to other transport modes I think that is a valid discussion. Then it is about, you know, national measures versus European measures versus global measures but, of course, at the same time we have to keep in mind that we cannot strive maybe for perfection and the perfect system at global level either, we do again need to to show the way and to make sure that the aviation sector contributes in a fair manner.
JOS DELBEKE: Well, thank you very much Yvon. I think what we learned from the discussion here is that every year we have international negotiations but that the emphasis today is on implementation, implementation in the aviation and the maritime sectors but also implementation of the commitments that were done by the States under the Paris Agreement. So, it was very good to hear that that emphasis is there and also to note that Europe is doing a maximum effort in terms of contributing to the finance, that we have a quite good record in the world, even if we are fully realizing we could do more, but also that trade as an instrument is coming up.
I think that is very heartening and, as you see, the table is full of good ideas and good intentions and I’m very grateful to Yvon that you could spare out the time out of a busy life in the European Commission to have this chat with us. Thank you, thank you Yvon.
YVON SLINGERBERG: Glad to do so.

Entrevista a Yvon Slingenberg (CE)

En esta entrevista, Yvon Slingenberg comparte sus ideas sobre su trabajo como directora de la DG Acción Climática de la Comisión Europea, responsable de las negociaciones climáticas internacionales y de la integración de las cuestiones climáticas en las políticas de la UE.

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