Clean tech sector and NGOs produce alternative election manifestos | Euronews

Election manifestos are not the preserve of political parties vying for seats in the European Parliament: the run-up to the 6 June poll has seen industry lobbies, interest groups and NGOs produce wish lists of their own.

With EU leaders sharpening their focus on global competition after a five-year political cycle marked by the European Green Deal, clean tech companies are warning the EU must do something to match the multi-billion-dollar support US competitors enjoy under the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act – not to mention state-supported mass production in low-wage China.

Following the momentum of the Antwerp Declaration, where industry leaders enjoyed the support of EU Council presidency holder Belgium in a call for less regulation and a renewed focus on industrial competitiveness, Bill Gates-backed Cleantech for Europe is calling for a dedicated investment plan to upskill the workforce and ensure “abundant and clean electricity”.

The group, supported by Gates’ pro-nuclear Breakthrough Energy initiative, calls in its manifesto for more revenue from the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) to be ploughed into net-zero technologies, such as solar panels, electrolysers or batteries, and a broadening of the European Investment Bank’s (EIB) financing support.

“The five-billion-euro facility that the EIB announced at COP28 is a great start, but only covers the wind sector. It is both insufficient to bring the entire EU wind sector back to a global leadership position, and more clean tech sectors need to be covered,” the group says in its manifesto.

Cleantech for Europe also called for policy makers to tighten the sustainability and resilience criteria firms must meet to qualify for support. Its concerns were broadly echoed by Eurobat, a lobby group representing European automotive and industrial battery manufacturers – a sector particularly exposed to competition from China as rising electric car sales drive up demand.

A “global level playing field” is needed, Eurobat said, calling for the next EU executive to include a European Commissioner for EU strategic autonomy. “[We call on the EU] to strengthen initiatives that boost market uptake of battery technologies in mobility, motive power and energy storage,” its manifesto reads.

Another technology that has been thrust into the policy making limelight as Europe seeks to transition away from fossil fuels is the production of renewable or ‘green’ hydrogen – making the highly flammable gas by hydrolysing water with renewable electricity, such as that from wind turbines or solar panels.

In a manifesto released last month, the Renewable Hydrogen Coalition (RHC) – set up by the trade associations SolarPower Europe and WindEurope and supported, again, by Breakthrough Energy – calls for the next EU executive to deliver within its first 100 days in office, a plan for scaling up green hydrogen production and to “prioritise renewable hydrogen in all legislation and public funding”.

Needless to say, there is a lot of crossover as well as conflicting interests among the hundreds of industry groups lobbying for the attention of policy makers in Brussels, so the same names often crop up. The Energy Storage Coalition (ESC) is a good example. Set up by the European Association for Storage of Energy (EASE), the above wind and solar lobbies, and Breakthrough Energy, the ESC has produced a manifesto calling for more public money to be channelled towards clean technologies, and the exclusion of “the most polluting assets” – an euphemism for fossil fuel infrastructure – from such support.

“Financial incentives at both the EU and national levels continue to disproportionately favour fossil fuels, discouraging investment in cleaner alternatives and hindering the transition to a carbon-neutral energy future,” the ESC says in its manifesto.

Not all solar panels are photovoltaic – and for some uses it is much more efficient to use sunlight for direct heat generation than for electricity production. Solar Heat Europe – whose members make rooftop water heating panels, among other things – wants the EU to produce a ‘Renewable Heating and Cooling Action Plan’, with a tripling of solar thermal deployment by 2030 at its core.

While industry groups naturally seek to ensure policy driven demand for their own members products, whether clean tech or not, environmental NGOs have joined forces to demand a change in direction among policy makers, a move away from a growth-driven approach and instead putting ‘sufficiency at the heart of the EU’s future’.

In a manifesto aimed as much at governments currently discussing the EU’s strategic agenda for the coming five years, more than 70 green groups – including some of the most influential in Brussels such as the European Environmental Bureau, Friends of the Earth Europe and legal charity Client Earth – urge measures to cut demand for resources across the economy.

“The coming European elections and the next EU institutions’ mandate will be a critical time to decide how to shape a path to resilience: by continuing to increase our dependencies and inequalities, or to put demand management at the heart of the EU strategic agenda through a sufficiency-driven approach,” they write.

The strategic agenda, which heads of government are expected to adopt at a European Council summit in June, carries no legal force. However, it is intended to guide the European Commission, which has the right of legislative initiative in the EU’s under the EU treaties.

It is thus a key first step in setting the agenda for the next five years – which will, of course, also be greatly influenced by the make-up of the next European Parliament, which first convenes in July, and the new EU executive that will be installed before the end of the year, whether or not incumbent president Ursula von der Leyen wins the second term she is pursuing.

The green groups clearly have an eye on the current direction of travel in key areas of energy policy, in calling for the use of hydrogen – an energy vector for which the petroleum industry is actively seeking policy support – to be limited to “priority applications”. This means sectors such as aviation, for which there is no viable decarbonisation route other than sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs), which can be made from “green” hydrogen.

The concept of sufficiency, of course, also implies taking an alternative form of transport where possible – and this logic also extends to other areas of transport. Private petrol-driven cars do not need to be substituted by the electric models that are driving demand for green tech like batteries and huge volumes of renewable power, the NGO manifesto suggests. It calls for a “massive shift in infrastructure investments – to support the reduction of individual car use by making public transportation, car-pooling, and sharing as well as cycling and walking more attractive and available”.

Interim climate commissioner Wopke Hoekstra, while pledging during his confirmatory hearing last October to support a 2040 emissions reduction target on 90%, has warned that policy makers could soon have to explore the possibility of “lifestyle changes” as a policy aim.

An early draft of the 2024-29 strategic agenda, leaked to the press last month was greeted with alarm by NGOs who saw the environmental and climate crises relegated to little more than a footnote. Heads of government are expected to agree the EU’s direction of travel on 27-28 June, by which time they will have had ample time to digest the outcome of the European Union elections.