The EU’s climate chief nominee Wopke Hoekstra on Monday told the European Parliament that he wanted to tax aviation fuel and fossil fuels as he faced a tough hearing in front of members.
“I want to explore an international kerosene tax, a maritime levy, a fossil fuel tax and even a share of ETS proceeds,” Mr Hoekstra, 48, told European politicians in Strasburg, referring to the EU’s “cap and trade” system to reduce emissions through a carbon market.
The former Dutch foreign affairs minister needs approval from at least two thirds of the parliament's environment committee to be confirmed in his new role as the EU’s next head of climate change policy.
A final vote will take place in a plenary session on Thursday.
Mr Hoekstra promised during a three-hour hearing that he would “use all instruments available” to enable the EU to reach the recommended target of 90 per cent net reduction in greenhouse emissions by 2040.
“Fossil fuels must become history, the sooner, the better,” he said.
If he is confirmed, Mr Hoekstra will succeed fellow Dutch politician Frans Timmermans, who quit the job this summer in a bid to become his country’s next prime minister.
“I aim to swiftly conclude all pending negotiations, but I will not be a caretaker. It simply would not do justice for the scale of the challenge,” Mr Hoekstra said.
He hopes to “work together in full equality with our friends from the Global South”, including at the coming UN climate negotiations, or Cop28, in Dubai, where discussions “will centre on ambition and finance".
“The harsh reality is that the Paris goals are far from fulfilled,” Mr Hoekstra said, referring to the 2015 Paris Agreement’s goal to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels.
This entails greenhouse gas emissions peaking before 2025 and declining by 43 per cent by 2030.
“Public expectations for Cop28 are high and rightly so, and time is running out,” Mr Hoekstra said.
“We must get the world on track [for] 1.5ºC . I still see avenues of success in Dubai and I will work non-stop to make it happen.”
Cop 28 must be about putting into operation a controversial loss and damage fund that was agreed on during the Cop27 in Egypt, but which remains subject to debate, he said.
“It is do-able if we find an agreement on the governance and operating rules,” Mr Hoekstra said. “I will talk to all partners to build a global loss and damage coalition.”
But some MEPs were sceptical of his promises, because of his former employment at oil company Shell and his role in financially supporting Dutch flagship airline KLM during his 2017-2022 tenure as finance minister.
Some of the sharpest criticism came from Dutch politicians.
“Looking at your CV, you have not exactly been a climate champion and that’s putting it mildly,” said Dutch Green politician Bas Eikhout. “We want more concrete promises.”
Mohammed Chahim, vice chairman of the socialist and democrats group, accused Mr Hoekstra of drawing on his past consultant skills from his 2006-2017 career at McKinsey & Partners to tell members what they wanted to hear on financing the green transition.
But Mr Hoekstra said he was convinced of its value.
“For the Global South, there’s a lot at stake here for them. It’s a question of trust and the best way we can achieve that trust is to put our money where our mouth is,” he said.
Anja Hazekamp, from the left group, pressed Mr Hoekstra to take a position on a flagship climate conservation law, which was nearly ended this summer by his political group in the European Parliament.
The European People’s Party said it would cause a food crisis – a claim described as “fake news” by Ms Hazekamp.
Mr Hoekstra did not directly answer the question on the nature conservation law, but said that with 60 to 70 per cent of its soil in a poor state, Europe’s biodiversity was in danger.
“We can’t draw a false distinction between people, climate and health. In the real world, all these things are linked,” he said.
Others, such as German member of the socialist and democrats group Tiemo Wolken, raised Mr Hoekstra’s past refusal to support EU countries financially during the Covid19 pandemic, which caused a dispute at the time with countries such as Portugal.
“Will you support future distributive tools to enable a just transition in all member states?” Mr Wolken asked.
Mr Hoekstra responded: “It is up to us to be the guardian angel for the vast majority that we call the middle class and those the most in need."
In his introductory remarks, he acknowledged the Covid-19 controversy.
"At the start of the pandemic, I showed insufficient regards for the difficulties faced by some member states and I would like you to know that I feel that I should have done differently," Mr Hoekstra said.
Climate action is facing political opposition in Europe as tensions mount with China and the US over the race to make green technology, and as countries adapt to record-breaking floods, drought and deadly heat as a result of human-caused global warming.
EU officials say members are unlikely to reject Mr Hoekstra, in part because that could mean the EU has no new climate policy chief at Cop28.