INTERVIEW with Eberhard Rhein (Senior Advisor, European Policy Centre, Brussels)
EUBULLETIN: At the 2015 summit in the French capital, delegates from nearly 200 countries finalized the Paris Agreement, the world’s first global climate pact. During the present 22nd climate change summit – or COP22 – in Marrakesh, representatives from the signatory countries are working behind the scenes to come up with the “rulebook” for implementation of the Paris deal. Can you sum up what has been achieved in this process so far?
Eberhard Rhein: Marrakesh Conference is the first conference after the signature and the ratification of the Paris Agreement. The new agreement means an enormous progress compared to anything we have had over the past 30 years. And, increasingly, the world will have to wake up to the challenge of climate change because it is happening around us everywhere, whether in tiny Europe or in big Asia.
So, we will have to change our way of life, our way of thinking and, above all, our way of generating our energy. Within the next 30 years, our energy must become less and less composed of fossil forces. We must reduce our overall energy consumption, which must be much more effective in terms of housing, insulation of housing, it must be much more effective in terms of what we use as instruments for heating. What is now particularly important is the investment in housing and in buildings. Our buildings, especially in America and also in certain parts of Europe, are lousy; there is too much squander of energy because there are not even the double or triple windowpanes.
EUBULLETIN: Much of the world was eagerly awaiting results of US presidential election, but it was in Marrakech where the wait was particularly poignant. What can we expect now that the Republican nominee, who called climate change a “hoax” and reiterated that he would “cancel” last year’s Paris Agreement, prevailed over rival Hillary Clinton, a strong supporter of climate action?
Eberhard Rhein: Contrary to what has in the last few days been written in the media, there is no danger of the United States falling out of line, and even though Trump has boasted that the US will refute the Paris Agreement, they have signed and ratified it. Of course, any country can refute the agreement or withdraw from the agreement but it takes at least three years of time after the notification of the country’s withdrawal.
So, nothing can happen to the US participation in the Paris Agreement at least before 2019 and by then even in the US, the atmosphere will not be the same because I bet the US will realize that the climate change affects its agriculture, affects its way of life. So, therefore, I am pretty optimistic even though even within Europe, and for example in Germany, there is an in-fight between industry and labour on the one hand and the people who are convinced that we have to do something about the climate change. This is what I would say on the present stage of climate change and the related policy.
EUBULLETIN: The European Union’s contribution to the fight against climate change consists of a range of measures adopted by the EU members – it is called Europe 2020 Strategy. Has this package, which focuses on emissions cuts, renewables and energy efficiency, yielded any tangible results?
Eberhard Rhein: In solar and wind energy field, technological progress is very fast and the prices are falling so that in a few years, the solar energy produced in optimal locations will be cheaper than the conventional sources of energy. You can also see one example: in Germany, one of the biggest conventional electricity producers has just posted 6 billion euros loss because it had to write down all the fossil input and replace it by renewable energy. And they built four entirely new companies for that purpose that will replace the old one.
So, this is a change that is good and I hope countries like Poland and the Czech Republic that are still at the very beginning of that process will look at what’s going on in the rest of Europe. But in Europe we will have to continue this fight and we will have, together with the Chinese, currently the biggest producer of solar energy panels, show the American that they cannot play a separate role.
EUBULLETIN: Do you agree with many experts who say that the current conference in Marrakesh plays probably a more important role in this process that the Paris summit?
Eberhard Rhein: I have just looked up where we now stand with the Marrakesh conference but it is still too early to say because the conference in Marrakesh will last until the end of the next week. The important things have not happened this week but they will happen in the coming week. It has just been going on for the first few days, which is just one of the big theatres. But also during the Marrakesh conference, people will see – perhaps somewhat symbolically – the world’s most important and largest concentrated solar power plant complex, which is located precisely in Morocco.
EUBULLETIN: Talking about this well-known major solar plant field in Morocco, have the North African countries themselves taken some substantive steps in moving toward using more renewable sources of energy?
Eberhard Rhein: They use solar and also small wind farms because they have a very long 2000-kilometer coast with ideal wind conditions. But I have mentioned the world’s largest solar power plant that is projected to gradually replace conventional energy generation in the country. So, Morocco is the only country in Northern Africa and in fact in the whole Africa that is leading the way in changing the whole power industry. Morocco is a leader in all of Africa.