Environment ministers feel the heat in Brussels

Temperatures hit new record highs in parts of Europe as environment ministers meet to discuss a range of environmental issues.

Extremely high temperatures have been recorded over the past few days across Europe, hitting new record highs in Germany and the Czech Republic.

The heatwave is a result of hot air coming from Africa. But meteorologists say that such temperatures, which are normally expected in late July or early August, are set to happen much more frequently due to climate change.

“The only explanation to the repeated heat waves happening all over the world in the last years was anthropogenic climate change”, or man-made climate change, a study carried out by ETH Zurich concluded in April.

As pregnant women, children and elderly people are advised to remain indoors, environment ministers from all 28 member states travelled to Brussels this week to discuss a wide range of environmental issues.

However, despite the unusually high temperatures reminding ministers of the elephant in the room, climate talks were not a priority. Ministers carefully avoided any conclusion on Europe’s long-term vision for climate neutrality.

This is due to a stalling of higher-level discussions among heads of state, who just one week ago failed to formally endorse a decision for the EU to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Last week’s talks were hijacked by the governments of Poland, Estonia, Hungary and the Czech Republic, which refused to back the explicit inclusion of the 2050 deadline.

The EU must achieve net zero carbon emissions as part of the Paris Agreement in which governments have committed to limiting global warming to 1.5°C. This means the bloc needs to layout a strategy to phase out fossil fuels and offset remaining carbon emissions through projects such as the restoration of natural areas.

However, ministers did reach some important conclusions this week. A new strategy was signed off to ensure the European Commission improves the regulation of chemicals and endocrine disruptors in consumer products. The participants “stressed the need to develop a relevant mechanism for coordinating the protection of vulnerable groups such as children and pregnant and breastfeeding women.”

Ministers also agreed on minimum safe standards to boost water reuse for crop irrigation and avoid the risk of water shortages, which may help Europe adapt to the consequences of climate change. Sergiy Moroz from the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) said that “while today, ministers did not increase minimum standards, many member states did call for the rules to go further. Now the European Parliament must champion stricter standards for water reuse.”