Europe chemicals needs 'razor sharp tools' to meet emissions target - Cefic

Author: Morgan Condon

2020/09/25

LONDON (ICIS)--EU legislators need to use a “razor sharp tool and not generic policies” custom-made for different industries when outlining sustainability targets, according to the director general at European chemicals trade group Cefic.

Marco Mensink made his remarks earlier this week at a webinar hosted by news site Politico about sectoral decarbonisation in the EU by 2050.

The target for full decarbonisation is set out in the recently-approved Green Deal proposed by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

As soon as 2030, the plan envisages a reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emission by 55%, compared with 1990 levels; the target was recently upped from 40%.

“This [the Green Deal] is an investment policy; the one and only question on the table for us is how do we sell Europe around the world?” said Mensink.

Cefic's chief conceded that the target is ambitious and that it would take hard work, both in meeting these goals and in obtaining investment to develop the technology.

2050 is two investment cycles away, and breakthrough technology is still a decade away from being fully developed, and so the industry needs to continue to remain profitable for these milestones to be achieved.

“Decarbonisation does not happen in a linear reduction curve, and we an understanding that this is the case. The amount of support we are going to get determines the amount of investments we can make in Europe,” he added.

Mensink is clear that a pan-European approach rather than rules applied on a country-by-country basis will be the most appropriate for the chemicals sector, and to focus more on the positioning of chemicals clusters.

The sector will need renewable electricity and hydrogen pipeline in order to meet the targets set by the EU.

“The challenge for Europe is triple: we need to completely revamp technology, we need to revamp  the energy system, and it is challenging to get global investment in the region with relatively stable population and markets.”

This has become even more prevalent in light of China’s pledged to become carbon neutral by 2060, with Mensink outlining the goal for Europe to be at least on par with China.

"There will be a lot of cooperation and on a number of fronts they may be faster than we are because they combine something we don’t have: a huge and growing market.”

While all speakers agreed that opening a dialogue would be crucial for Europe to retain a competitive edge, there are still issues about where the funding for this would come from.

Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Jytte Guteland, Social Democrat from Sweden, suggested that the best way to speed up investments for lower-carbon technology would be collecting money from the Emissions Trading System (ETS), carbon borders, and the EU’s plastic tax.

“If you take the funding away from industry and recycle it through governments, something always goes to other budgets,” said Mensink in response to MEP Guteland’s suggestion following the debate.

“It’s not a zero-sum game. We have been vocal for long that all funding coming from the EU ETS should be returned to innovation to the sectors inside the emissions trading system," he added.

"Specifically on the plastic tax, we believe you should not single out one material, but all non-recyclable materials should be taxed if such a measure is proposed.”

Focus article by Morgan Condon