Climate Change, We've Reached the Realm of... Plans

Octavian Dan
English Section / 21 septembrie

Climate Change, We've Reached the Realm of... Plans

Versiunea în limba română

Humanity "feels immensely and sees monstrously" when it comes to climate change, global warming, and pollution. As with any major issue, there are two opposing camps. What's certain is that most authorities preach passionately on this topic, propose projects and plans, set ambitious targets, all with the goal of halting global warming and protecting the environment. In theory, all these efforts are commendable, but the problem is that in practice, beyond the plans, where there is a true inflation, very few concrete actions are taken. Our country is no exception. We excel at setting targets and projects, but in reality, we face significant problems. President Iohannis expresses his satisfaction at the UN, but Romania remains at the bottom of the list when it comes to recycling plastic waste, and rivers are choked with garbage. The gap between words and actions is widening.

Romania has already achieved 62% of its national targets for implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, according to President Klaus Iohannis. He made this statement during his intervention at the Summit on Sustainable Development Goals - Leaders' Dialogue, part of the UN General Assembly's agenda. The central theme of the current session of the UN General Assembly, taking place this week in New York, is "Rebuilding Trust and Global Solidarity: Accelerating Action on the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals for Peace, Prosperity, Progress, and Sustainability for All." President Iohannis cited figures from the National Voluntary Report on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2023 and emphasized that Romania "has made significant progress in SDGs related to environmental protection and climate change mitigation." In this regard, he mentioned the further development of institutional structures for SDG implementation, the training of experts in sustainable development, and the establishment of a national set of sustainable development indicators. "These achievements have been facilitated by strong regional partnerships and the involvement of multilateral institutions," Klaus Iohannis noted, calling for unity and solidarity: "We have only seven years left until 2030! We have limited time, and we need to intensify our cooperation. The remaining years should be used for result-oriented actions that are not possible without unity, solidarity, and strong engagement in multilateral frameworks. We must continue to strengthen the UN Development System, better monitor the implementation of SDGs, and base development policies on quality science and data."

Good news is also coming from within the country. The National Integrated Plan for Energy and Climate Change could be subject to public debate in approximately two months, announced Dan Dragan, Secretary of State in the Ministry of Energy: "We are working on the national integrated plan for energy and climate change. We hope that the draft of this plan will be open for public debate in about two months. We have the support of the European Commission, and we also have consultants working on mathematical modeling." Dan Dragan made these statements at the conference "Romania and the New European Energy Order." When asked about carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, he stated: "Certainly, it is not only a challenge for Romania but for all EU countries and even beyond the EU regarding carbon capture, storage, and utilization. In this regard, in the National Integrated Plan for Energy and Climate Change, there will be a dedicated chapter on carbon capture and utilization technologies. Because this technology is not yet commercially viable in the market and cannot be supported on its own, we have included it in the modernization fund. We planned this a year and a half ago when we established this fund in Romania through Ordinance 60, implementing a direction of investment called Carbon Capture and Utilization. This involves not only capturing from production facilities that will continue to use solid or gaseous fossil fuels but also the industrial sector and the use of carbon in methanol production and the manufacture of sustainable products for the environment. There are ongoing projects, and I'm aware of one of these projects in the UK, and there's even a transfer of know-how and technology to Romania in the chemical industry to capture carbon and use it in sustainable products for the environment."

The plan for plans is on the verge of being achieved.

Climate Justice

Realizing that there is a lot of talk but little action, people have decided to turn to the courts to force states to uphold their promises. Six young Portuguese individuals are holding 32 states accountable before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for their inaction on global warming, a case that could mark a turning point in climate justice. A sign of the importance that the Strasbourg Court attaches to this case is that the Grand Chamber, its highest instance, will convene on September 27. With 32 targeted states, this case is unprecedented in terms of the "number of states" involved, according to a source within the ECHR. The decision, which the Court will announce in a few months, will be closely scrutinized in the context of the global surge in climate-related lawsuits; its rulings are binding on the 46 member states of the Council of Europe and set legal precedents. Gerry Liston, the lawyer representing the six applicants, hopes for a decision "that acts as a binding treaty imposed by the Court on states and urges them to accelerate their efforts to mitigate climate change." "Legally, it would be a radical shift" in terms of climate justice at a time when courts are playing an increasingly important role in this fight, according to the attorney from the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), the British NGO supporting the young claimants. The six Portuguese, aged between 11 and 24, decided to take action after the violent wildfires in 2017, which burned tens of thousands of hectares and killed over 100 people in their country. These young people, who fear for their health, say they have experienced "anxiety in the face of natural disasters and the prospect of living in an increasingly warm climate," as summarized by the ECHR in a statement. The Court, which has never previously ruled on the obligations of the 46 member countries of the Council of Europe in this regard, will first examine the admissibility of the application-whether the case can be rejected without being examined on its merits. This admissibility will be hotly debated, according to AFP. While the usual procedure involves first exhausting legal remedies in the countries concerned, the applicants have chosen to address the ECHR directly, citing the "excessive and disproportionate burden" of launching 32 separate proceedings in 32 states. A "precedent-setting session in terms of scale and consequences," according to Gearoid O Cuinn, director of GLAN, for whom this case, a "David versus Goliath" story, goes beyond Europe: "Never before have so many countries been forced to defend themselves in a court anywhere in the world." The 27 EU member states, along with Russia, Turkey, Switzerland, Norway, and the UK, were named in the complaint filed in September 2020. Initially, Ukraine was also included, but the claimants chose to exclude it after Russia's invasion. In their application, the young Portuguese individuals invoke several international texts on climate, including the 2015 Paris Agreement, and point to several violations of the European Convention on Human Rights, including Articles 2 (the right to life) and 8 (the right to respect for private and family life). The number of climate-related lawsuits doubled between 2017 and 2022, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.

Coda: Recycling Laggards

Beyond words, the statistics are not very kind. In Romania, plastic is among the most commonly used packaging materials, but its recycling rate is only 30.05%, according to data from the National Institute of Statistics. The most recycled packaging waste in Romania is metal (51.12%) or glass (42.67%). Romania ranks last in the European Union in terms of packaging waste recycling, with the percentage dropping to 39.87% in 2020, nearly 5% less than in 2019, according to the latest European statistics. In comparison, EU champions in this regard are Belgium with 79.2%, the Netherlands with 74.7%, and Luxembourg with 71.9%. Environmental targets have increased in 2023, meaning that packaging waste should be recycled at a rate of 65%. By 2025, this percentage will rise to 70%. Packaging waste placed on the Romanian market must be reported to environmental authorities through Extended Producer Responsibility Organizations (OIREP). Recently, the European Commission included Romania among the European countries at risk of not meeting their targets for 2025 in terms of both municipal waste and packaging waste, alongside Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary.

Ambiguous Outcomes

Discouraging signals are also coming from European authorities. The development of offshore renewable energy in Europe has yielded ambiguous results, warns the European Court of Auditors (ECA) in a report titled "Offshore Renewable Energy in the EU - Ambitious Growth Plans, but Sustainability Remains a Challenge." EU actions and funds have contributed to the development of blue energy as part of the EU's efforts to achieve its climate and energy goals, but it is possible that the EU will not live up to its ambitions, say auditors, and much remains to be done for offshore renewable energy to become economically and environmentally sustainable. Blue energy is meant to make a significant contribution to the EU's "green" objectives. In 2020, the European Commission adopted a strategy to support the sustainable development of offshore renewable energy and maximize its potential. Since 2007, the EU budget has allocated euro2.3 billion for offshore energy technologies. Additionally, the European Investment Bank has provided euro14.4 billion in loans and equity investments. The growth of offshore renewable energy comes with its own dilemma, that of "greening": this type of energy is essential for the EU's green transition, but its development can harm the marine environment. The EU strategy attempts to reconcile this energy with biodiversity, but the European Commission has not estimated its potential environmental effects, such as species displacement and changes in population structure, changes in food availability, or alterations in migration patterns, to name a few. Overall, auditors are concerned that expanding this energy in Europe could harm both the marine environment above and below the sea. Offshore renewable energy rarely coexists with other activities. In particular, conflicts with the fishing sector remain largely unresolved, and objections to offshore energy arise whenever individual projects are evaluated. Moreover, EU countries that share the same waters rarely plan joint projects, missing an opportunity to use a limited maritime space more efficiently. The socio-economic implications of offshore renewable energy development have not yet been sufficiently studied. Auditors also note that the risks related to the supply of critical raw materials may slow down the implementation of offshore renewable energy in Europe. Currently, these materials are almost entirely supplied by China, which plays a crucial role in the production of permanent magnets for wind turbine generators. EU dependence can create bottlenecks, and auditors raise questions about supply security in the context of current geopolitical tensions. Another barrier is the lengthy national authorization procedures. For example, in France, one of the longest approval periods in Europe is observed for offshore wind installations, which can take up to 11 years. However, the EU has set ambitious targets of 61 GW of installed capacity by 2030 and 340 GW by 2050, compared to the current capacity of only 16 GW. Therefore, rapid and large-scale deployment of offshore renewable energy facilities will be needed in EU countries, requiring considerable maritime space and around euro800 billion, mainly from private investments. These targets may prove challenging to achieve, according to auditors.

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