European Union leaders reached a hard-fought deal on Friday to reduce the bloc’s net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by the end of the decade compared to 1990 levels, and to avoid a hugely embarrassing stalemate ahead of a UN climate summit this weekend.
After nightly discussions at their two-day summit in Brussels, the 27 member states approved the EU Executive Commission’s proposal to tighten the bloc’s snack on the road to climate neutrality in the middle of the century, following a group of reluctant, carbon dependents. countries finally agreed to support the improved goal.
“Europe is a leader in the fight against climate change,” tweeted EU Council President Charles Michel as daylight broke over the EU capital. “We decided to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that the 21-hour summit during which the climate debate was a constant concern had much to show for it. “It was worth having a sleepless night,” she said.
Five years after the Paris Agreement, the EU wants to be a leader in the fight against global warming. Nevertheless, the bloc’s leaders could not agree on the new goal the last time they met in October, mainly due to economic concerns from eastern countries seeking more clarity on how to finance and manage the green transition.
But the long-awaited deal for a massive long-term budget and coronavirus recovery achieved by EU leaders on Thursday picked up speed.
Much of the € 1.82 trillion package is set aside for programs and investments designed to help Member States, regions and sectors particularly affected by the green transition, which need profound economic and social change. EU leaders have agreed that 30% of the package – around € 550 billion – will be used to support the transition.
However, agreeing on a common language was not an easy task. The negotiations were suspended all night through intense discussions during the plenary session and several chats in small groups on the side.
Another delay in revising the EU’s current 40% reduction target for 2030 would have been particularly embarrassing ahead of the Virtual Climate Change Summit, which marked five years since the Paris Agreement, and leaders worked online to seal a deal.
The event on Saturday will host the UK along with the UN and France.
French President Emmanuel Macron praised “an important signal” that will enable EU leaders “to wake up our major international partners, particularly the United States and China.”
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson announced last week that he wants Britain to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 68% from 1990 levels by 2030 – a more ambitious goal than the EU.
Unfair to Eastern countries
Poland, which last year did not commit itself to the EU’s climate neutrality target of 2050, and other eastern countries, including the Czech Republic and Hungary, are heavily dependent on coal for their energy needs. They considered it unfair that all Member States should be subject to the same ambition without taking into account their respective energy mixes.
In order to gain their approval, the Member States agreed that the new target would be delivered collectively. According to the Belgian Prime Minister’s Office, “the leaders agreed that the cuts will first be achieved in sectors and countries where there is still plenty of room for improvement.”
In addition, the European Commission will take into account specific national situations when preparing the measures. A progress report will be presented to the European Council in the spring.
The agreement also left the door open for Member States to use gas or nuclear power when emitting fossil fuels. EU leaders agreed last year that nuclear energy would be part of the bloc’s solution to make its economy carbon neutral, and they reiterated on Friday that they would respect Member States’ right to decide on their energy mix and to choose the most appropriate technology to achieve their goals.
According to a French official who was not authorized to speak publicly about the meeting, Poland also received guarantees that the EU Emissions Trading Scheme – a ceiling and trading scheme for industries to buy carbon credits covering about 40% of EU greenhouse gas emissions – would be modernized. Poland wants the reform of the system to redirect more revenue to the poorer EU countries.
World leaders agreed in Paris five years ago to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), and preferably no more than 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) by the end of the century. Under the Paris Agreement, countries are required to present updated climate targets by the end of this year.
Greenpeace and other environmental organizations have said that the improved EU target is insufficient to properly manage climate change.
Still not enough
“To increase the chances of limiting global warming to 1.5 ° C and avoiding the worst effects of climate change, Greenpeace requires at least a 65% reduction in EU emissions from polluting sectors by 2030,” said NGOs.
The Climate Action Network Europe regretted that the revised “net target” includes carbon sinks such as reforestation, which means that emissions sectors will need to reduce hydrocarbons to reach the new target.
“As the Commission points out in its 2030 Climate Plan, the EU could succeed in up to 5% of CO2 emissions if the EU succeeds in implementing the Commission’s biodiversity. In this case, the real target for emission reduction would be as low as 50%, said the NGO.
EU leaders also encouraged the Commission to propose a carbon tax at the bloc’s borders for countries that do not regulate CO2 emissions as strictly as the EU does.