"We're on the side of climate justice" - Frans Timmermans, the face of the EU's green deal, talks COP26, nuclear energy, Nord Stream 2 and more.
Climate change and what it will do to the planet are at the forefront of everyone's minds. People from across the world want answers, action and a unified response. At this year's COP in Glasgow, some decisions to help combat global warming were made. Some of the most noteworthy include stopping deforestation, cutting methane emissions and phasing down coal.
We spoke to the Executive Vice President of the European Commission in charge of Climate, Frans Timmermans. As the face of the European Green Deal, we asked him about the results of COP26, the EU Green Deal and whether Europe is doing enough to fight this global threat.
To watch the full interview with Frans Timmermans, click on the medial player above.
You made a speech and showed a photo of your one-year-old grandson, Kees, at COP 26. It went viral. It touched a nerve. You were trying to show that technocrats can be human too. Will Kees be satisfied with the outcome of COP26?
Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice President of the EU Commission:
"I don't think so. We still have a tremendous amount of work to do. But what I was trying to do there is to show that this is personal for every single one of us. It's not just personal for me and for my grandson. You all have loved ones, children and family that will suffer the consequences of the climate crisis if we don't fix it."
There was nearly no deal on the Saturday at COP26. Take us behind the scenes. What was really going on?
"Well, I think it’s always difficult to reach a global deal in a COP. But this time we were more ambitious than many, many countries had anticipated before and it took a bit to get everybody to cross that line. And especially the formulation used by the British presidency on coal was a bit much for some coal-producing countries. So, we had to reformulate it, maintaining a high level of ambition, but using a couple of different words. But still, the writing is on the wall for coal and that's the most important thing."
An emotional president of COP26, Alok Sharma, said it was just a "fragile win".
"Yes, he was emotional because of the last-minute surprises we got from several countries that suddenly didn't want to support the final outcome. So, we had to find, together with those countries, we had to find some quick fixes and fortunately we succeeded."
Why is Europe so reluctant to create a loss and damage facility for countries that will be impacted by climate change but don't cause it?
"Well, in the developed world, there's nobody who does more for adaptation and loss and damage than the EU. We were pushing other developed countries to put more money on the table. We put extra money on the table for loss and damage. We did put more money in the adaptation fund. So we are, in the developed world, we are leaders on this, but we still need to do a lot more because we're talking about trillions of adaptation money that will be necessary to prepare the planet for what is already happening, which is a climate change."
While you were busy inside the building at COP26, there were some activists outside asking the European Union which side it is on? They were asking whether it is for the fossil fuel side or climate justice? What would you say to them?
"Well, we're on the side of climate justice and we are also on the side of phasing out fossil fuel. That formulation got into the final declaration, which is something that never happened before and we have the policies to back it up. We're the only part of the world that actually has a plan to get our emissions reduced by at least 55 per cent between now and 2030. Many others have now declared they are going to be carbon neutral in the middle of the century, but they still don't have real plans to get themselves there and we do!"
Does the plan have momentum and do you think your 'Fit for 55' package will be adopted before COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh?
"I hope so. We still have a lot of work to do. Not every single proposal will be fully adopted by then, but I hope by then we will have reached the point of no return. We will have full commitment from the European Parliament and the Council, where all the member states come together, that we have them on board for the package as a whole. That would be incredibly important before COP27."
At euronews, we've been reporting lately about the rise in energy prices and companies that are producing gas are reporting billions extra in profits. Why is the European Commission promoting so-called ‘new gas projects of common interest’ and will you support and approve Nord Stream two?
"What we need to do is to help countries transit out of coal into renewables. But some countries can't make that in one go. They will need natural gas as a transitional energy source. And that's why we support some of those projects. But we don't want them to be locked into natural gas. So, it can only be a temporary solution. And we will make sure that our legislation is fit for purpose so that we have this transition from coal through natural gas to renewables in those countries that need it."
Can natural gas really be called green?
"No, it can't. It's a fossil fuel. But it's at the same time an energy carrier we will need in the transition towards green."
What about nuclear?
"Well, nuclear has a huge advantage of not creating any emissions. That's a huge advantage. But at the same time, it is based on fossils and it comes at an incredibly high cost."
What would Kees say about the radioactive waste of nuclear?
"Yes, indeed. The cost is huge. You know, the cost of building nuclear power plants is only going up. The cost of building renewable energy resources is going down dramatically down. You hardly need any public money to invest in renewables. You need massive amounts of public money to invest in nuclear."
Should Europe ban fossil fuel companies from sponsoring media, cultural and sports events?
"I think we should make clear that we want investment to move away from fossil fuel into renewables and this could be the same companies moving into renewable energy. Why not? But today the IMF has calculated we're investing about 11 million dollars a minute in fossil fuels and that needs to change and needs to change quickly."
We've recently seen people taking to the streets of Belgium, the Netherlands and Austria to protest against COVID-19 measures. These protests turned ugly. They were actually quite violent. Is Europe ready to weather a climate crisis?
"What is important is to confront our citizens, not just with the cost of the transition, but especially with the cost of non-transition, which will be huge. The human suffering will be immeasurable if we don't change our ways. And so, of course, this transition will be difficult, but we need to make sure it's fair. We need to make sure we leave no one behind. We need to demonstrate to our citizens that when we're asking them to contribute to this, what we're asking of them is fair and we make sure those who can contribute more actually do contribute more and those who can't are protected against, for instance, energy poverty."
Do you feel like the COVID-19 pandemic has scuppered the EU Green Deal a little bit?
"Well, of course, the COVID pandemic has a lot of influence on what people's worries are today. But interestingly enough, all research shows that if you ask people, what is your main concern? A majority of Europeans will say the climate crisis and not COVID."
Is Greta Thunberg a hero?
"She's a hero, absolutely. We would have no European Green Deal without her and the Fridays for Future movement."