On May 30th, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) announced that the European Union had overstated its climate spending by at least €72 billion, in which the EU fell short of the bloc’s self-imposed goal to spend 20% of its full budget on sustainability and tackling issues regarding climate change. By its own account, the EU hit its target, spending €216 billion from its 2014-2020 budget– however, the auditors opposed this, saying that the EU had overstated its climate spending and the actual figure was likely to have been around 144 billion euros, equating to a mere 13% of the total budget. Following the ECA’s findings, this would mean that a third of the funds the European Commission dedicated to climate action did not manifest in emission-limiting expenditures.
In their official report, the auditors detailed that “there is no system in place for monitoring climate results” and that “not all the reported climate-related spending under the EU budget was truly relevant to climate action,” said the ECA member who led the audit, Joëlle Elvinger. However, the Commission disagreed with this narrative and defended its original assessment that the EU met its target, telling Balkan Green Energy News that many of the ECA’s examples as “weak evidence” to prove it is overstating its spending and the organization “does not share the ECA’s view that climate reporting is unreliable.”
The auditors noted that agriculture subsidies made up 80% of the spending but were not correctly labeled or did not clearly adhere to climate-task regulations. Furthermore, half of the Commission’s entire budget was allocated to agriculture, yet, ECA claims the Commission overstated its sustainable spending in this sector by about €60 billion. Although some positive measures were taken to cut emissions, such as enriching soil carbon storage or cultivating cover crops, many other initiatives lacked any genuine climate impact.
A significant risk the ECA fears is that the missions and goals under the fund are not distinctly linked to climate objectives, therefore raising questions regarding the reliability of future climate reporting and that misstating climate spending may persist during the EU’s current 2021-2027 climate-specific budget. As released in a statement, while disagreeing with portions of the ECA’s report, the Commission still accepted most recommendations, and a spokesperson assured Fortune that the organization has “significantly strengthened” its methodology and will be implementing the use of scientific evidence to assess agriculture spending’s climate contribution.
There must be institutions, such as the European Court of Auditors, to hold influential institutions accountable for their actions and continuously fight in the best interest of the planet and its people. With the ECA bringing this matter to the public and garnering more oversight to watch for mistakes or leniency regarding spending, the Commission must now work harder to enact climate-friendly investments and create environmentally-friendly changes. Having been given guidance by the ECA, additional oversight, and having learned from previous failed climate ventures, it is with great hope that the EU’s 2021-2027 green budget will be more prosperous and lead to a significant, positive transformation in the sustainability sphere for all to bear witness.