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  • Marta Beckwith

A Greener Future - EU Proposal Part Two

The EU Strategy on Standardisation was updated last year “to deliver on the twin green and digital transition and support the resilience of the single market.”[1] The Strategy is mostly forward looking and includes plans for a review of “existing standards, to identify needs for revisions or development of new standards to meet the objectives of the European Green Deal and Europe’s Digital Decade and support the resilience of the single market” and to develop new standards to address “critical ‘standardisation urgencies’.”

The world needs more global leadership in greening our economies. The EU’s plan to create future standards, and revise current standards, to support green initiatives is a laudable goal. But, the time to act is now if the EU wants to manifest that leadership and realize its “ambitions towards a climate neutral, resilient and circular economy”.

Several years ago, I was traveling with my family on the TGV from Geneva to Paris on a hot summer day. I was slowly reading a French language newspaper, pleased with myself that I was (mostly) managing to understand it with my college French. I barely noticed when we unexpectedly stopped at a remote train station. An announcement came over the loud-speaker and suddenly everyone got up and started exiting the train. My rusty French was wholly inadequate to understand the announcement and none of the rest of my family speaks any French, so we had no idea what was going on.

As the last person left the train, they turned back to us and said in English, “The train is on fire. You must get off.” These are not words you want to hear on a family vacation (or at any time for that matter). Everyone on the train was ok and we did finally arrive in Paris after much consternation and a side trip to Lyon. Being me, I immediately did some research and found out that this was not an isolated event. Europe’s high speed rail lines were not designed for the extremely hot weather conditions that have become an increasingly common occurrence during European summers. Under these new weather conditions, rail lines can buckle, high temperatures can damage electrical components and “even cause fires” like the electrical fire that happened on our train.[2]

This year, the region of New Zealand in which I’m currently living has experienced unbelievable amounts of rainfall during this rare third year in a row of La Nina conditions. In January, 2023, the region experienced rainfall totals averaging 485% of normal with ranges from 174% of normal to an astronomical 977% of normal.[3] In February, ex-tropical cyclone Gabrielle came through. The town in which we live was isolated because of slides and subsidence on the main highway both north and south of us, and the Hawkes Bay region was even harder hit. Two weeks after Gabrielle, a freak rainstorm came through the region dumping more than 300mm of rain on our nearest neighboring town in the span of about seven hours. That brought that community’s total rainfall for February to 976% of normal, and slips and subsidence again isolated several areas. According to a regional government team, “Both events exceeded a 1 in 100-year recurrence probability.”[4] In other words, these occurrences are not historically normal events.

At the same time New Zealand was getting hammered, my home state of California was also seeing nearly unprecedented amounts of rain and snow. After years of drought and extreme forest fires in “an extremely unusual event, staggering amounts of snow fell”[5] in the mountains of California burying houses, collapsing roofs, closing roads and trapping people, some of whom died.[6] Over these past few years, Australia also has experienced “a new reality” of catastrophic flooding coupled with years of drought and “colossal” bushfires.[7] My two older children recently sweltered in yet another “record-breaking” heat wave in the Pacific Northwest.[8] Then it was Italy and other parts of Europe’s turn for “exceptionally heavy rain” and “extreme weather.”[9] And now Canada is burning bringing some of the worst air quality in the world to areas in Canada and the United States.[10] Some regions of India and Pakistan are close to being unsurvivable.[11]

Climate change is already upon us, bringing with it hotter global temperatures, too much or too little rain, increasingly large and widespread forest fires and much more powerful storms. The costs of climate change are astronomical – trains that do not work, roads that collapse, infrastructure that needs to be fixed over and over again, whole forests gone and unlikely to regrow, people left homeless, crops ruined.

So, how does this relate to the European Commission’s “Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on standard essential patents and amending Regulation (EU) 2017/1001” (“Proposal”)? The Proposal recognizes the important goal of incentivizing “the broad implementation of such standardised technologies, particularly in Internet of Things (IoT) industries.” But, the Proposal undermines that goal by making the Proposal applicable only to standards published after its date of application and to unspecified existing standards determined “in accordance with Article 66.” Article 66 contains complicated tests and mechanisms to determine which existing standards will be included under the Proposal, and what aspects of the Proposal’s policies, procedures and requirements will apply to those existing standards if included.

But, there are companies, many of which are SMEs, currently making green IoT products and other green economy devices, that need the help right now of a more rational, efficient, transparent and less expensive SEP licensing system. These products use existing standards and are helping to green the economy now. The devices made by these companies include smart meters, connected and greener cars and home monitoring systems that allow users to turn down their thermostats or turn off their lights over the Internet based on alerts about usage. The European Parliament and Council has long recognized the importance of these technologies to a greener future. For example, more than a decade ago, the Commission issued a directive requiring Member States to work toward a goal of rolling out intelligent metering systems to at least 80% of energy consumers in order to reduce dependency on energy imports and “limit climate change.”[12]

As a friend who works in environmental policy said to me recently:

We need to think of every dimension no matter how small. We need to infuse climate considerations into all governmental policies and rulemaking. Every time regulations are being written or revised, the policymakers need to focus on green issues. Every new or updated policy should be filtered through a climate lens.

I urge the Commission to filter the Proposal through a climate lens by identifying the existing standards used by today’s existing green economy companies and clarifying that the Proposal, including all of its policies, procedures and requirements, will apply to those existing standards upon request of any stakeholder. Incentivizing the use of existing standards by IoT manufacturers is not something separate and apart from the goal of achieving a greener, more resilient digital economy, but rather a core piece of how that can be accomplished.

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