MEPs call for more climate action in Europe’s industrial strategy

A key vote in the European Parliament’s industry committee may bring Europe’s manufacturing sector closer to decarbonisation. But the strategy requires additional efforts, NGOs said.

EU lawmakers have an opportunity to push for a more ambitious strategy to decarbonise Europe’s industry following a vote on a report put forward by the ITRE Committee – the Parliament’s group focusing on industry and research.

The Committee’s Own Initiative Report targets energy-intensive industries including steel and cement manufacturing – which are accountable for about 16% of the EU’s annual CO2 emissions – and other sectors, promising transformational change to the manufacturing sector in post COVID-19 Europe.

A majority of MEPs in the Committee endorsed the report, which NGOs see as an improved version of the Industrial Strategy published earlier this year by the European Commission.

The Committee recommended a set of measures to reduce emissions, boost the uptake of renewable energy and improve both energy and resource efficiency, while also creating new jobs in the sector.

The report will be scrutinised by the whole Parliament in plenary in November. This period of scrutiny will eventually help define the final position of the Parliament and the exact measures in the EU’s industrial strategy.

Commenting on the report, NGOs were pleased to see climate neutrality being identified as a priority, welcoming the focus on aligning investments with the objectives of the European Green Deal.

However, the report falls short of strengthening weak proposals in several key areas, Carbon Market Watch, WWF European Policy Office and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) said in a policy brief.

Towards a climate neutral industry?

The decision by the committee not to propose a specific target to fully decarbonise the industry drew criticism from NGOs.

“The European Parliament has already voted in favour of achieving climate neutrality across the EU by 2050.  Why should the industry not be required to achieve the same goal and do its part?” said Agnese Ruggiero, a policy officer at Carbon Market Watch. 

Similarly, the NGOs lamented that the Parliament missed another opportunity to ask for the exclusion of fossil fuel projects in the strategy – something that risks locking Europe’s industry into burning gas for decades to come.

On a positive note, the groups welcomed the relevance given to energy efficiency, electrification of the industrial processes and the deployment of renewable hydrogen as key drivers for decarbonisation.

“However, renewable hydrogen remains a scarce resource and must be treated that way,” clarified Camille Maury of WWF European Policy Office. “The European Parliament must ask the Commission to come out with clear rules to make sure hydrogen is made and used sustainably, in very specific sectors only,” she said.

A circular and clean industry

The Parliament also confirmed the Commission’s intention to increase resource efficiency by boosting the market for secondary and reducing wasteful production patterns.

Yet, NGOs would have liked to see a clearer commitment to the circular economy. “Despite the call for climate action and circularity in industrial processes, MEPs made it clear that economic growth will remain the main indicator for the success of strategy,” said Davide Sabbadin, a policy officer at the EEB. “If we accept the fact that we cannot pursue infinite economic growth on a finite planet, then we need to get our priorities straight. A target for the industry to limit resource consumption would have been a good start,” he said.

Further, the EEB lamented the lack of ambition needed to ensure that potentially toxic chemicals are kept out of manufacturing. “The race towards climate neutrality must go hand in hand with the fight against pollution,” Sabbadin concluded.

For more information, read the joint NGO assessment of the committee’s report.