Giovanni La Via: 'Everyone has to contribute' to fight against climate change

As he gears up to lead the European Parliament’s COP 21 delegation, Giovanni La Via explains why it’s crucial for the Paris conference to result in a legally binding agreement.

By Julie Levy-Abegnoli

01 Dec 2015

Over the next week and a half, world leaders will convene in Paris for a historic climate change summit, COP 21. This is expected to be the culmination of two decades of UN negotiations to reach a global, binding, agreement.

Along with the usual suspects; US President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, UK Prime Minister David Cameron and others; Giovanni La Via will be leading a delegation of 15 MEPs to - as S&D deputy Jo Leinen puts it - serve as "the EU's watchdog" during the talks, although members of Parliament will not actually be present at the negotiating table.

La Via tells this magazine that he and his colleagues, "understand the importance for the EU to speak with one voice during the conference. Our resolution, approved during the October plenary, represents the negotiating mandate for our delegation in Paris. We are ready to help in any way possible, to influence the talks in a positive way."


This resolution, adopted by an overwhelming majority of 434 to 96, calls for a reduction of at least 40 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 levels, a 40 per cent energy efficiency target and a 30 per cent target for renewable energy by 2030. It also seeks the phasing out of carbon emissions by 2050.

He explains that, "on the important points, there was convergence between the political groups, and we mostly shared common goals. Of course - and this is natural - there were some small differences. This is reflected in some of the compromises, but this is normal in a democracy. The important message is that Parliament's delegation is united and strong, and it is committed to achieving a good result in Paris."

Last year, the member states set their own EU targets, although MEPs were critical of these. The energy efficiency target (27 per cent) was not binding, and the renewables target (also 27 per cent) was only binding at EU level. Parliament had called for binding targets of 40 and 30 per cent respectively by 2030. 

Nevertheless, Europe prides itself – rightly so – on being a world leader in the fight against climate change. This is something La Via believes is down to the fact that, "the EU has set itself very ambitious targets and we are well on track to meet them on greenhouse gas emissions reductions and renewable energy. We have made significant improvements as regards energy intensity."

"Therefore, we are proud of our record in the fight against climate change, and we are happy to see that other countries, such as China and the US, have started to follow us."
Washington and Beijing made headlines last November, after they unveiled a secretly negotiated deal to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions; this was the first time China made such a commitment.

This was widely perceived as a positive signal, one year ahead of COP 21, that both countries would take part in a global agreement. However, a few weeks ago US Secretary of State John Kerry said there was, "definitely not going to be a treaty" and that reduction targets were "not going to be legally binding."

However, La Via points out that, "as stated by [French President] François Hollande and [European energy and climate action Commissioner] Miguel Arias Cañete, the 2015 protocol must be legally binding and ambitious."

"Obama is also pushing in this direction, and has made climate change an important political priority for the end of his term. We know that Congress does not have the same position, but we aim for a legally binding agreement to limit global warming to a two degree increase, with a review clause every five years. This will be the EU's target, and we will try to convince others to also adopt this position."

And the Italian deputy foresees an important function for Europe at COP 21, saying, "I believe the EU will have a central role at the conference. It will serve as a mediator in seeking progress towards an international agreement. We hope to have an agreement."

La Via adds that this must be, "a common agreement, and it must be based on binding targets. We need strong support from across the world on the goal we want to achieve. We cannot think that only proposals from different COP members will be sufficient to reach the two degree target"

For the MEP, it's essential that all actors chip in; he stresses that, "we must all work together. We cannot let some do the dirty work, while others carry on as normal."

"For this reason, it is necessary to achieve a global agreement at COP 21. We cannot let some do good work, while others continue to pollute and increase greenhouse gas emissions. This is why we need binding targets. This is our aim for the conference."

Yet the Italian is fully aware that once an agreement is reached, countries must put their money where their mouth is. He says, "we consider that the means of implementation - including climate finance - will play an essential role in finding an agreement."

"For us, for climate finance to be included in the deal, it must be a dynamic element, able to reflect the changing environmental economic realities, and support the announced ambitions for mitigation contributions and adaptation actions."

The world's wealthiest countries have been criticised for failing to stick to their financial commitments; they promised to raise $100bn (€94bn) for the green climate fund - intended to help developing countries implement green policies - by 2020. But by May this year only one tenth of this amount had been raised.

The EPP group member strongly feels that we should all chip in; as Gandhi famously said; "Be the change you want to see in the world." Therefore, La Via has changed how he lives and works. He explains that in the environment committee, which he chairs, "there are no more papers available in meeting rooms - all documents are available on the Parliament's website and the committee's web page."

"Other committees have started following our lead, and asking their members to use electronic versions of dossiers. We hope to move towards a paperless Parliament." 

And concerning the building as a whole, "lights turn off automatically when they are not in use, as well as during the night. The same applies to our computers, and over the weekend, offices are on 'low energy mode'. We are trying to make our contributions to achieve the same goal across the European institutions." He adds, "I think that everyone has to contribute."

Faced with the reticence of some businesses to transition to more environmentally friendly means of production - for fear of a negative impact on their profits - La Via insists that, "we have already shown that the green economy has great potential for growth and for job creation."

"Of course, we must bear in mind that our goal is to save the planet, but we must also preserve the competitiveness of our industries, especially in a period of crisis such as the one in which we currently live. Therefore, we must support green investments in research and new technologies. They are the future."

Lastly, COP 21 takes place amid an extremely tense atmosphere, just weeks after the terrible Paris attacks that killed 130 people and with a number of cities across Europe on high alert. But Giovanni La Via refuses to let this distract him from his mission. 

He tells this magazine, "it's clear the climate - in a different sense, of course – is not the best at this stage. However, we are confident and ready to work to achieve our goal, without any problems. It's not up to us to consider what is happening outside COP 21. What we must focus on is to work well, to achieve a good result for people. Not just for European citizens, but rather all citizens across the world."


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