Original publication: June 2017
Authors: IEEP: Martin NESBIT, Kamila PAQUEL, and Andrea ILLES
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Cohesion policy and Paris Agreement Targets

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The European Council, the European Parliament, the Council, and the Commission identified the contribution of cohesion policy to the delivery of climate objectives as a key priority for the 2014-2020 period. New elements of process were introduced, including the drawing up of a Partnership Agreement between Member State and Commission before the development of operational programmes, in part to ensure that programmes addressed climate objectives; and mechanisms were introduced to cohesion policy programmes to help track the delivery of a target to spend at least 20% of the overall EU budget on climate change. Meanwhile, since the adoption in 2013 of legislation on the 2014-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework, in 2015 the EU successfully concluded the Paris Agreement with other parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Paris Agreement was ratified by the EU and entered into force in November 2016. Experience in implementation of the current approach to climate mainstreaming, and the implications of the Paris Agreement, will need to be taken into account in the design of the next programming period for cohesion policy; as will the connections between climate change and the urban dimension; and the connections between climate change and European territorial cooperation.


This study examines experience in the use of the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) to deliver climate policy objectives, with a particular focus on the funds that fall under the remit of the REGI committee (the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Cohesion Fund (CF)). It looks at the mechanisms introduced in the 2014-2020 programming period to ensure the mainstreaming of climate objectives, and identifies both successes, and areas which could be improved. It then considers the implications of the Paris Agreement for future programming periods, and sets out recommendations. The research has been based on a review of relevant legislation, policy documents, guidelines, and literature, together with an assessment of monitoring information provided on the DG REGIO website.

Findings and recommendations

The study looks sequentially at the previous experience of climate mainstreaming, in the 2007- 2013 programme period; at the mechanisms used in the current (2014-2020) programming period; and at the implications of this experience, in combination with the new context created by the Paris Agreement, for future cohesion programmes.

The analysis of climate mainstreaming in the 2007-2013 programming period suggests that there were many positive attempts by the managing authorities responsible for programmes to integrate climate objectives. However, the lack of a clear overarching structure, and in particular the lack of common mechanisms for setting climaterelevant targets and monitoring progress towards them, made it difficult to draw lessons on the effectiveness of climate-relevant spending.

The study focuses in more detail on two specific aspects of programming in the 2007-2013 period: the urban dimension, and territorial cooperation:

  • Climate policy objectives have a particular relevance in the urban context, both in terms of the potential contribution of cities towards mitigation objectives; and in terms of the adaptation challenges facing cities. However, there has not yet been a systematic attempt to integrate climate policy objectives into the urban dimension of cohesion policy.
  • Territorial cooperation programmes were a rich area for cooperation on climate objectives, with a tendency for transnational programmes to identify renewable energy as a priority, and for cross-border programmes to include a focus on climate awareness-raising and research activities.

The commitment by the EU institutions to mainstream climate further into EU programmes in the 2014-2020 MFF, with an explicit objective of spending 20% of the EU budget on climate objectives, was accompanied by a number of new mechanisms to improve the focus of ERDF and CF expenditure on shared EU policy objectives. The approach adopted in the ESIF, and particularly in the ERDF and CF, showed a relatively high level of ambition and completeness in respect of both climate-relevant inputs and results. As regards inputs, the mechanisms introduced in cohesion policy for monitoring performance against the overall 20% climate spending targets are sophisticated in comparison to other policy areas, although still show some weaknesses. As regards the impact of spending, the coherence and precision of climate-relevant impact and result indicators has improved for ERDF and CF as compared to the previous programming period. However, it still does not provide enough clarity on the contribution of cohesion policy to delivery of the EU’s overall climate objectives.

On the basis of these findings, and an analysis of the context created by the Paris Agreement, the study identifies a number of areas for potential improvement in the next programming period. To ensure that climate mainstreaming of EU expenditure is more effective in delivering climate objectives, a clear link should be drawn between the contribution of cohesion expenditure and Member States’ overall delivery of climate mitigation targets. A common methodology for assessing the climate mitigation impacts of investments and programmes (to address risks of double-counting and to ensure that impacts are measured against a clear baseline, and are genuinely additional to business-as-usual actions) would be an important first step.

The Paris Agreement underlines the importance of meeting the 2030 targets for the EU, but, just as importantly, it identifies an overall ambition of limiting global warming to well below 2°C, and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. This implies that EU programmes should include a focus on, firstly, coherence of all investments with the required long-term decarbonisation trajectory, and, secondly, on measures likely to facilitate or unlock more ambitious decarbonisation potential, and on the development of new market for low carbon goods and services. This has particular implications for territorial cooperation programmes, given the importance of greater integration of energy markets to maximise the effectiveness of grid management responses to energy efficiency and renewable energy supply, and for cities, whose role as a testing ground for delivering radical decarbonisation could be further facilitated through cohesion policy.

Finally, we recommend that in line with its “Budget focused on results” initiative, the Commission should identify in quantitative terms the expected contribution of future cohesion programmes (alongside other areas of the budget expected to contribute to mitigation and adaptation) to the delivery of overall EU climate objectives.

Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/601-982

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