EU's new climate chief wants to 'increase the level of ambition' at Cop28

Dutch politician Wopke Hoekstra won the support of the European Parliament in a plenary vote

Wopke Hoekstra arriving at the European Parliament's Environment Committee in Strasbourg, France, on October 02, 2023.  EPA
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The EU's new climate chief Wopke Hoekstra on Thursday said he aimed to “increase the level of ambition” at the upcoming Cop28 in Dubai.

In his first public comments after receiving the European Parliament's final approval as EU commissioner for climate action, Mr Hoekstra said his priorities would be geared towards “making sure the world’s community comes together at the Cop to take another tremendously important step”.

Lawmakers in Strasbourg voted overwhelmingly in favour of Mr Hoekstra, a 48-year old Dutch politician, with 279 votes for him, 173 against and 33 abstentions.

A positive vote had been expected after the EU parliament's environment committee earlier this week agreed to back Mr Hoekstra as the bloc's new international climate negotiations lead.

After a three-hour question-and-answer session on Monday evening, Mr Hoekstra was asked to answer further queries in writing, including clarifications on how the EU would reduce carbon emissions by more than 95 per cent by 2040.

On Wednesday, he obtained the support of two-thirds of the committee's coordinators, paving the way for a vote in a plenary session.

Mr Hoekstra told reporters in Strasbourg that he wanted to break “the financial deadlock” at Cop28, in an apparent reference to earlier statements in which he expressed a strong desire to set up a loss and damage fund for developing countries.

The fund, which was approved at Cop27, has faced hurdles in implementation.

Mr Hoekstra said: “All the conversations I will be having … in the weeks and in the months to come will be geared towards making sure that we break the financial deadlock, increasing the level of ambition and making sure the world’s community comes together at the Cop to take another tremendously important step.”

The EU will finalise its negotiating position at Cop28, which starts in the UAE next month, at a meeting of environment ministers on October 16 in Luxembourg. Mr Hoekstra has said that he would argue for dropping or limiting the reference to “unabated fossil fuels”.

The EU Commission argues that fossil fuels need to be phased out as fast as possible and that carbon capture technology should be focused on covering a limited amount of emissions in the sectors where it is hard to abate them.

“We have some two months to make the Cop into a success,” said Mr Hoekstra. “That is a very steep climb. It is something I am anxious to get started.”

EU Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic, who will lead the implementation of the EU's ambitious green laws that aim to make the continent carbon-neutral by 2050, also obtained the backing of the European Parliament on Thursday, with 322 votes in favour, 158 against and 37 abstentions.

Before the final vote, Mr Sefcovic also had to answer further questions in writing to explain how he would push through with the EU's green policies before the Commission's mandate ends next June.

He now heads the so-called European Green deal – in addition to his previous portfolio as interinstitutional relations commissioner.

Both candidates needed a simple majority in the parliament to receive the final approvals for their new roles. They replace Dutch politician Frans Timmermans, who used to oversee both portfolios but quit in August in a bid to become The Netherlands's next prime minister.

Updated: October 06, 2023, 3:28 AM