For climate action and energy commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete the question is simple - "What could be more important than safeguarding the future of our planet, maintaining secure supplies of energy, and keeping that energy affordable?" With this is mind, the Spanish official was keen to emphasise the European commission’s central objective of "creating an energy union with a forward looking climate policy". "The energy union will represent a fundamental change in the manner in which the EU intends to achieve our underlying energy objectives of competitiveness, sustainability, and security of supply."
As the commissioner responsible for taking forward many of the proposals of the energy union project, Cañete says he will be focusing on implementation as a key part of the energy union’s success. "It’s no good having excellent legislation if it is not implemented, so I will be working closely with member states to help break down any barriers and make sure that the energy union becomes a reality," he adds.
"It’s no good having excellent legislation if it is not implemented, so I will be working closely with member states to help break down any barriers and make sure the energy union becomes a reality"
Turning to the commission’s new working setup, Cañete says it has "proved highly effective at breaking down barriers and encouraging cooperation". "Already on the energy union project I have been working closely with the commissioners for environment, maritime affairs and fisheries; for research science and innovation; for transport; and for agriculture and rural development, to name but a few, under the direction of vice-president for the energy union Maroš Šefčovič. This way of working ensures genuine collaboration, as opposed to having 28 different commissioners pulling in different directions and pursuing different agendas."
Another key element of his climate action and energy brief is the UN climate conference to be held in Paris this December, where, Cañete stresses, "world leaders have agreed to sign a global deal on climate change". "Thanks to the 2030 framework, which the European council agreed in October last year, the EU already has our own target of reducing greenhouse emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2030."
The EU’s 2030 policy framework aims to develop a more competitive, secure and sustainable European economy and energy system, including a 27 per cent minimum target for renewable energy and energy savings by 2030. "Within the EU my focus will be on getting supporting measures to the 2030 framework agreed, including comprehensive reform of the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS)," says the commissioner.
Cañete says that "good progress" was made at the 2014 UN climate summit in Lima, which, he adds, was "never to set specific targets, but to lay the groundwork for a final deal in Paris". However, he stresses that despite setting the "timeline for countries to come forward with their individual commitments as part of the final deal to be agreed in Paris, the EU had hoped that countries would also agree on a formal process for evaluating those commitments, but this did not happen". "We will therefore need to call on the help of various stakeholders to help evaluate countries’ commitments, and make sure that together they are sufficient for restricting global warming to below two degrees centigrade."
"In February the commission will set out our full vision for Paris," says the commissioner. "We will be pushing for a binding protocol covering all countries, which ensures we keep to the two degrees centigrade target, and provides the guarantee of support that developing countries need. From now until the end of the year I will be pulling out all the stops to meet with our international partners across the world and build support for an ambitious deal in Paris. I will need all the help I can get. Foreign ministers have already agreed on a climate diplomacy action plan."
"I will be counting on the continued international climate diplomacy efforts of the parliament in the run-up to the Paris climate summit"
Cañete was full of praise for the "support and expertise of the European parliament delegation in Lima", calling the input of MEPs "invaluable". "I will be counting on the continued international climate diplomacy efforts of the parliament in the run-up to the Paris climate summit."
The Spanish official says he "fully appreciates the importance" of the work of MEPs, pointing to his four stints and 13 years of service as a deputy, adding that the European parliament is "like a second home". "I intend to work closely with the parliament throughout my mandate, involving MEPs at the earliest possible stage in all discussions, and maintaining an open and constructive dialogue, particularly with members of the industry, research and energy (ITRE) and environment, public health and food safety (ENVI) committees."
He also highlights his work on "the passage of the market stability reserve (MSR)", stressing that he hopes to "see agreement on the proposal as soon as possible".
The MSR proposal would allow for control of the number of carbon emission permits on the market as a means of affecting the price of carbon and ensuring the smooth functioning of the ETS. For Cañete, agreement on the MSR would "allow the commission to come forward with a proposal for reforming the EU ETS beyond 2020".
As he sees it, Cañete’s role as commissioner is to entrench a set of values that will dictate the next 30 years of EU environmental and energy activity, setting Europe on a more sustainable and secure path. The climate summit in Paris is set to be the stage for talks that, if they fulfil their rich promise, could result in a deal that would be one of a kind. The EU will be there, aiming to lead from the front and speak with one voice. For Cañete, the task is clear. "We are trying to lay the foundations for better cooperation and integration in the field of energy for decades to come," he concludes.
Miguel Arias Cañete is European climate action and energy commissioner