Auditors warn EU spending on climate change could undershoot target

22 Nov 16

European Union spending on climate change may fall short of target, with a lacklustre effort to channel funds towards climate action throwing spending off schedule, auditors have found.


The EU has said that in order to respond to climate change, at least one in every five euros (20%) of its budget for 2014-20 should be spent on climate action by incorporating this into various policy areas and funds in the EU budget.

For example, climate change spending should be entwined with regional and rural development, agriculture and fisheries spending.

A European Commission spokeswoman said managing to integrate climate-related spending into policy is an “achievement of its own”.

But the European Court of Auditors found in many cases this had not happened.

Phil Wynn Owen, the member of the ECA responsible for the report, said at the current rate there is a “serious risk” that the funding target will not be met.

“Progress has been made, but in key spending areas it is largely business as usual,” he stated.

Auditors found that in the areas of agriculture, rural development and fisheries, and in the European Social Fund, which supports employment and economic and social cohesion, there had been “no significant shift” toward climate action.

According to the commission, the share of dedicated funding for climate change averaged 17.6% between 2014 and 2016.

However, in some areas the auditors found these estimates were based on assumptions that involve “overestimation and lack sound justification”.

Applying internationally established methodologies would reduce the expected contribution by around €33bn over the 2014-20 period, representing 15% of the overall target.

The EU’s research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020, has also fallen behind its individual target by more than 10%, and the commission has no detailed plan on how to catch up, auditors said.

They noted that even the commission agrees it is on track to miss the target. In September this year, commission estimates predicted that overall, 18.9% of the EU budget would be spent on climate action in 2014-20.

A commission spokeswoman said this shows that the commission is “broadly on track” to meeting its objective. But auditors said climate funding would need to be scaled up to an average of 22% for 2017-20 in order to make up for the loss so far.

The ECA also called for more comprehensive reporting and monitoring of results and financing to be tied to realistic needs assessments. Overestimates should be corrected, and action plans drawn up for areas that have fallen behind, the auditors added.

Markus Trilling, finance and subsidies policy coordinator at Climate Action Network Europe, told PFI that he welcomed the detailed recommendations made by the ECA, especially because the commission failed to come up with similar measures despite being aware it was set to miss the target.

However, in regards to missing the spending target, he said the “biggest deficiency is on the national level”: the target was a political commitment not enshrined in legislation, and was subsequently vulnerable to disputes about where limited funds should go.

The climate element of the budget discussion also “cannot be reduced to this quantitative target”, he continued.

“The target is a good thing but we should not forget about the quality of the spending behind it and the other 80% [of the budget]. The whole budget has to be climate-proof. You can do nice, pretty green stuff with 20%, but it all depends on what you do with the other 80%.”

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