COP26: Babiš to focus on European energy crisis, EU Green Deal’s economic impact

Andrej Babiš

World leaders began arriving in Glasgow on Monday for the COP26 climate change conference. Ahead of the landmark summit, most countries – the Czech Republic included – have vowed to do more to fight global warming. But the ongoing energy crisis in Europe has heightened concerns that EU member states are not willing to do enough to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

The European Union is among the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, along with China, the United States, and India. Together, they account for half of the emissions – and so are key to limiting future impacts from climate change.

The Czech Republic, meanwhile, is among the EU member states most reluctant to abandon the “dirtiest” of fossil fuels contributing to global warming – namely coal – which provides the majority of fuel in this country for power generation.

The EU has set a target of cutting emissions by 55 percent compared with 1990 levels and pivoting away from fossil fuels by the year 2030. And as laid out in the bloc’s Green Deal, approved in October, Europe should become the first “carbon neutral” continent by the year 2050. The EU’s Covid-19 recovery package also requires member states to spend at least 37 percent of funds in support of the “green transition.”

The Czech government has said it will back the EU’s proposed 2030 target – but only if the 55 percent target is an average for the whole bloc – and state aid rules do not hamper its nuclear ambitions. But Prime Minister Andrej Babiš said before leaving for Glasgow on Monday that addressing the European energy crisis, in part by regulating the carbon market, is the main outcome he hopes will come from COP26.

Photo: Tomáš Adamec,  Czech Radio

“This summit, from my point of view, above all must address energy prices, which as everyone is aware, are soaring. At the summit, I will ask the European Commission if in fact is checking whether financial speculators are buying emission credits, as this has a direct impact on energy prices.”

Mr Babiš has denounced the Green Deal for seeking to cut carbon emissions by phasing out combustion engines by 2035 as “nonsense” and setting targets for curbing coal production without taking into account the energy mix of individual countries.

The Czech prime minister told reporters in Prague he planned to devote his speech at COP26 later on Monday to warning of the devastating impact the Green Deal will have on Europe’s economy if other countries do not meet similar targets.

Referencing the recent collapse of Bohemia Energy, the Czech Republic’s biggest alternative energy supplier, he hinted that he would continue to push for the EU Commission to allow the country to waive VAT on energy prices throughout 2022.

“The problem is that the European Parliament and EU Commission, which created the Green Deal, have also created big problems by increasing energy prices. And at the same time, they are preventing us from helping people.”

Meanwhile, apart from the European energy crisis, a key topic at COP26 will be how to finance the transition to a low-carbon and carbon-neutral economies in developing countries, which have contributed less to global warming but are more severely affected by it.

One form of assistance is the UN Green Climate Fund – to which the Czech Republic has only contributed once, in the years 2014-2018, in the amount of 110 million crowns, about 10 crowns per capita.