GeoLog
Chloe Hill

Chloe Hill

Chloe Hill is the Policy Officer at the European Geosciences Union. Chloe graduated with a Masters in Environmental Governance from at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität of Freiburg. Before starting with the EGU, Chloe worked with action-orientated research and policy processes in both Europe and Asia. Chloe tweets at @Chl0e_Hill

EGU’s response to potential changes to the European Research Council

EGU’s response to potential changes to the European Research Council

A major re-organisation of the European Commission’s Research and Innovation Directorate General is scheduled to take place this year with a goal to revise staff reporting procedures and increased coordination between the agencies. While improved coordination may be of benefit in some areas, concerns have been raised about the potential impact these changes may have on the European Research Council (ERC), the European funding agency for excellence in research that sits within the Directorate but has the distinguishing feature of being independently managed by scientists. We believe this autonomy is a key and critical element of the undisputed success of the ERC, since its creation just over a decade ago. This success has been, in large part, due to the capacity of the agency to listen, act upon, and adjust to the needs of the scientific community. Without this close relationship with the research community, the ERC’s ability to support the very best frontier science will be compromised. Of particular concern, are potential changes in the remit of ERC’s Scientific Council as governing body, which is undoubtedly a cornerstone of the ERC’s credibility, success and international recognition.

The EGU strongly supports the unique ability that the ERC currently has to respond directly and independently to the needs of the scientific community. Being the sole European funding agency for scientists, designed and governed by scientists, has enabled it to become one of the world’s leading and most respected funders of frontier research, with over 70% of completed projects leading to discoveries or major advances. The EGU unequivocally supports the Scientific Council’s ambitions for Horizon Europe to “consolidate the ERC’s success by ensuring its continuity, agility and scale-up in the next framework programme”.

We encourage EGU members to react to this EGU response. If you have comments that you would like to see added to this piece, please email policy@egu.eu or add your comment on this blog post. 

GeoPolicy: getting ready for the European Parliament Election

GeoPolicy: getting ready for the European Parliament Election

The European Parliament currently has 751 members who belong to one of the eight political groups, at least one of the 20 different committees and represent approximately 500 million people from the 28 EU Member States. The EU Parliament plays an extremely important role in the EU. It oversees the EU budget, launches investigations into specific issues and shares legislative powers with the Council of the EU which means that it can pass, reject and adjust proposals submitted by the EU Commission.

The current parliamentary configuration is often more ambitious than the EU Commission in terms of sustainability, climate targets and funding for science. In November 2018, the Parliament’s Industry, Research and Energy committee called to increase the budget for the EU’s 2021-2027 research and innovation framework programme (Horizon Europe), from the Commission’s proposed €83.5 billion to €120 billion. And ahead of COP24 in 2018, the Parliament voted to increase the EU’s emissions reduction target from 45% to 55% compared to 1990 levels.

However, the current configuration of the EU Parliament is set to change with the upcoming European Parliament Election which will be held from 23–26 May 2019. The European Parliament is the only body of the European Union that is elected directly by EU citizens. Despite this, since the first EU Parliamentary elections in 1979, voter turnout has significantly declined from 62.0% to 43.0% in 2009 and only a slightly higher turnout of 43.1 in 2014 (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Percentage of EU citizens who voted from the first EU Parliament Election in 1979 until 2014. https://www.statista.com

What do the EU elections decide?

The next European Parliament election will determine who the Members of Parliament (MEPs) will be. There are currently 751 MEPs but this number will be reduced to 705 after the 2019 election as a result of the UK leaving the Union. Each of the soon to be 27 EU Member States (after Brexit) has  already been allocated a number of the 705 MEP seats based on the size of their population. The elections in May will decide who, from each Member State, will fill these positions.

The focus and direction of the EU Parliament is dictated by the MEPs elected. Your vote will therefore help dictate the future EU budget, which legislation is passed and what adjustments are made!

Who can vote?

Voting in the European Parliament election is restricted to nationals of EU Member States. Usually, EU nationals are only able to vote for candidates that are standing for elections in their own countries but if you live and are registered in a different EU Member State you can chose to participate in the election of your host country instead. But of course, you can’t vote twice! So, if you are live in a different EU Member State, you will have to decide whether you’d rather vote for a candidate in your host country or your home country.

What about UK citizens?

The UK is scheduled to leave the EU on 29 March 2019 after which UK nationals will no longer have MEPs or the right to vote for them (regardless of where they live).

If you’re an EU citizen living in the UK and want to vote in the European Parliament elections, it is still possible depending on your home country. You can find more information about your country’s specific rules regarding citizens living in the UK here.

National discrepancies

Despite it being a European election, different EU Member States are able to dictate many of key elements regarding the voting process, such as

  • which day the polling is open (between 23–26 May)
  • the voting system (Figure 2),
  • whether voting is compulsory
  • the minimum age to be eligible to vote (16 in Austria & Malta, 18 everywhere else)
  • whether it’s possible to vote by mail or from abroad
  • if there’s a single electoral district or multiple

This section of the EU website can provide you with specific details depending on your nationality and country of residence.

Figure 2: The voting systems of EU Member State and number of MEPs. Source 2019 European Elections national rules

What are some of the concerns for the upcoming election?

As Figure 1 shows, voter turnout is a definite concern. The EU Parliament is attempting to address this through initiatives such as “this time I’m voting“. Hacking and cybersecurity are also potential threats to the election. As European Commissioner for Security Julian King stated, Given the dispersed nature and comparatively long duration of the European Parliament elections, they present a tempting target for malicious actors”.

Furthermore, there is increasing concern about the prevalence of disinformation. Fake news can easily go viral when individuals fail to fact-check before sharing a link on social media. Bots, that can be controlled by individuals or governments, also have the ability to share fake news, shape online conversations and subsequent discourses. There is evidence to show that such bots have already had an influence on certain EU issues such as immigration in Italy. The EU is already working to combat disinformation with the EU Action Plan against Disinformation which was released by the Commission in December 2018. Key online organisations such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and Mozilla are also expected to release figures on disinformation and the measures that they are taking against it in early 2018.

Increasing nationalism and populism within the EU is another concern with populists gaining traction in many EU countries.

What can you do in the lead up to the election?

Know the voting rules and specifics of the country you will be voting in and make sure you register if your country requires it.

Have an understanding about what issues your country or constituency’s candidates support. Most countries should have an overview of the candidates running closer to the election. Websites such as VoteWatch Europe can tell you how active each current MEP is, how they have voted on particular issues and the initiatives that they’ve been involved with. If a candidate was, for example, involved in the 2017 MEP Scientist Pairing Scheme, they are likely to support science and science for policy.

And this goes without saying for most scientists … don’t spread misinformation! Make sure your sources are reliable and don’t just share an article based on the headline.

Happy voting!

Further reading

 

GeoPolicy: COP24 – key outcomes and what it’s like to attend

GeoPolicy: COP24 – key outcomes and what it’s like to attend

Earlier this month, the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24), was held in Katowice, Poland.  COPs are held annually and provide world leaders, policy workers, scientists and industry leaders with the opportunity to negotiate and determine how best to tackle climate change and reduce emissions on a global level. With so much at stake, these negotiations can be tense.

Some COPs see more action than others. COP24 had relatively high stakes with delegates having to establish a rulebook that will allow the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement to be put into practice in 2020 [1]. The Paris Climate Agreement was established during COP21. It acknowledges climate change as an international threat and that preventing the Earth’s temperature from rising 2°C above pre-industrial levels should be a global priority. Creating a rulebook that will instruct countries on what they must do to achieve this is no easy feat.

This blog will give you some details about what was achieved at COP24, and perhaps more importantly, what wasn’t. But firstly, it will outline what it’s actually like to attend a COP with some personal insights from Sarah Connors, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Science Officer and former EGU Policy Fellow.

Initial impressions from COP24

What struck me (as a first timer) was all the different levels of meetings, you have the top-level negotiations, which lots of observers can join and even ask questions at some bits (rather than just the official delegates). Sometimes it would be students speaking – which was cool to see. Then there’s smaller negotiation levels going on that are closed”

Activities for COP participants outside of the negotiations and high-level sessions

The whole meeting is mostly in two halves. There’s the official negations bit and then there are official side events and pavilions that several countries or organisations have paid for where they will have their own smaller events. The IPCC pavilion was something I worked on.”

Then there’s load of other events going on around the city, hosted by NGOs and charities. There’s also the occasional protest. It all felt a bit disjointed at times actually – not sure that’s a good thing.

It’s a bit like EGU in the fact your need to study all the different schedules to see which events you’d like to see/attend.”

Interacting with the policymaking delegates

“In terms of the science-policy interface, the SBSTA events or official side events were opportunities for the IPCC lead scientists to present the findings from the IPCC special report. Delegates got to ask questions there to help understanding.”

A few delegates also came to the IPCC pavilion to ask more about the what the science was saying about the differences between a 1.5°C and 2°C increase in temperature.”

So… What did the COP24 achieve?

The rulebook, which was the key task of COP24 and which will be used as an operating manual after 2020 was, for the most part, agreed upon. This is a positive step because, as UN Secretary General António Guterres, states “A completed work programme will unleash the potential of the Paris Agreement. It will build trust and make clear that countries are serious about addressing climate change” [1].

From 2024, all countries will have to report their emissions (and progress in reducing them) every two years. However, instead of requiring countries to adhere to a single, scientifically sound method of reporting their emissions, the text permits countries to use “nationally appropriate methodologies”. This could result in countries under-reporting their emissions with the land use sector being particularly susceptible to creative accounting [1].

A number of countries pledged to increased their climate pledges in 2020, including: the EU, UK, Argentina, Mexico, India, Canada, Ukraine and Jamaica. Some large private sector companies also made ambitious pledges including Maersk, the world’s largest shipping company, which pledged to eliminate its carbon impact by 2050.

What wasn’t achieved?

  1. The IPCC’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5ºC wasn’t fully embraced: Although the vast majority of national representatives wanted to “welcome” the report which was commissioned as part of the Paris Agreement, the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait only wanted to “note” the report. This resulted in a watered-down statement which welcomed the “timely completion” of the report and “invited” countries to make use of it. Although this may seem like semantics, it demonstrated the differing levels of engagement in climate action that countries are willing to have and pressed the issue of whether new legislation is effectively using the scientific evidence commissioned by policymakers.
  2. Lack of clarity on climate finance: During the Paris Climate Agreement, donor nations committed to mobilising $100 billion annually from 2020 to fund climate action in developing countries. Not only is it uncertain whether donor countries will be able to reach this contribution target by 2020, but there is a lack of clarity as to what constitutes “climate finance”. Can countries report aspects of their development add as “climate action aid” or should this be separated? What are the impacts of this?
  3. No agreement on Article 6, voluntary carbon markets: The final decision on Article 6 which sets the rules for voluntary carbon markets (such as carbon credits) will be made during COP25 next year. Carbon credits are given to countries based on their emissions-cutting efforts and carbon sinks, subsequently helping countries to meet their emissions targets. During the COP, Brazil pushed for a change in the wording of the final document which would have allowed each party in the carbon credit trade to make a “corresponding adjustment” to their emissions inventories. There was concern that this clause may allow countries to “double count” the emissions traded and as a result a final decision was not agreed upon this year.

What comes next?

COP25 will now be held in Chile rather than Brazil after Brazil’s president-elect Jair Bolsonaro reneged on hosting the event. During this meeting the final elements of the Paris rulebook will be finalised and work will begin on emissions targets for 2030 and beyond.

Additional reading