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Three reasons why Juncker should keep the position as climate commissioner

Today the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker will present his new commission, and we will know what the new top management of the European Union will look like. I am sure the commission will be a group of well qualified and committed people, but their performance will not only depend on their skills, but also which tasks and responsibilities they are given.

 

It looks like Juncker will merge the two previous positions as energy and climate commissioners into one. The immediate logic may be easy to spot. Energy policies have a direct impact on greenhouse gas emissions, and there are certainly possibilities for synergy in a joint energy and climate approach.

 

Still, I am worried. I am afraid a merger between energy and climate will have a negative effect on the EUs role in the fight for increased climate ambition.

 

Firstly, climate change is a much broader agenda than energy. Actually, when the debate about climate change started in the early 1990s, it was a focus for environment ministers. Soon it became apparent that any type of solution must be discussed by ministers of energy. However, when the 4th assessment report of the UN panel on climate change (IPCC) came in 2007, it became clear that climate change is a broad agenda covering trade, development, migration, health, growth, security, agriculture, transport, environment and of course energy. Today central themes in the UN climate talks includes adaptation, the situation where adaptation no more is possible, so called loss and damage, and means of implementation. A commissioner responsible for climate change must be able to have a broad focus, otherwise EU risk to lose influence in important parts of the international climate negotiations.

 

Secondly, both the energy agenda and the climate agenda include a heavy work schedule. An EU energy commissioner will have to engage in the internal EU discussions about EU energy policies, and the increasing debate about energy in relation to Russia. However, the climate change agenda also includes many travels, meetings and processes. EU is one of the most important players in the UN climate talks, and the commissioner must engage in active diplomacy to keep this position.

 

Thirdly, the merger between energy and climate is a political signal which should not be underestimated. EU has for a long time played a role of progressive actor in the climate debate, with a possibility to look for compromises. The cooperation with the Least Developed Countries and the small island states has given EU good allies, and EU has good relations with most of the other parties in the international climate negotiations. This political capital is an asset, but it can easily be lost, if other parties lose their trust in the union. If the energy portfolio is emphasized developing country partners may question if the EU commitment for the broader climate agenda is honest.  

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