EU countries split over climate ambition – again.

It’s been a busy week on the climate front as governments and institutions continue to delay meaningful decisions over climate targets and EU spending.

Mauro Anastasio rounds up what’s happened.

The European Commission must increase the EU’s target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 55% by 2030, eight environment ministers urged Vice President-designate Frans Timmermans in a letter on Monday.

The ministers represent Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.

The current emissions reduction target is 40% from 1990 levels, which is to be achieved by 2030. But scientists and climate experts argue that it may not be enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius, as agreed under the Paris Agreement.

At a hearing in the European Parliament on Tuesday, Timmermans backed the minsters’ initiative. He promised to push for a 2030 climate target increase, though it wasn’t clear whether this would be part of his much-awaited European Green Deal, which is expected to be presented in February 2020.

The new demands come just days after the EU’s 28 environment ministers failed to commit to increasing the 2030 emissions reduction target at a meeting in Luxembourg last Friday. According to unnamed government officials, 10 governments blocked the negotiations, but agreed the target would need to be updated before the UN’s climate conference in Chile on December 2. Representatives from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Malta, Poland and Romania are currently making progress difficult. 

“A long-awaited decision to massively scale up EU emission cuts has been delayed yet again at a time when millions of people take to the street to protest against government inaction,” said Wendel Trio, director of Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe said in a statement in response to last week’s meeting.

He added: “Ministers keep dragging their feet despite the fact that the EU’s current targets are completely inadequate and would condemn the world to severe climate breakdown.”

Last week, EU governments also failed to agree on ditching fossil fuels altogether and going carbon neutral by 2050, which is supported by the overwhelming majority of countries. Media report that only three countries – Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland – are unconvinced, while an increasing number of countries are stepping up national plans to achieve net-zero emissions as soon as possible. Finland recently vowed to do so by 2035.

All eyes are currently on the Czech Republic and Poland, which “refuse to commit to new EU targets until the costs of ditching fossil fuels are explained fully,” Euractiv wrote this week.

Towards a greener EU budget

Poland and the Czech Republic were not alone in voicing concerns over climate-related costs. Increasing EU spending to help countries boost climate action was a major point raised by the progressive front of environment ministers in their letter to Timmermans this week.

The group urged the Commission to significantly increase share of the new EU budget for climate action, and to also improve tracking of expenditures and an effective monitoring of achievements. This will help modernise our economy and generate employment, they said.

Governments and institutions are currently discussing the plan of action for the next EU budget, which will run from 2021 to 2027 and will allocate money to spend on renewable energy, clean transport and sustainable business models. The Commission wants to increase climate spending from the current 20% to 25% – about €320 billion – of the new budget. The European Parliament and civil society groups have proposed respectively a 30% and 40% minimum spending on climate-related projects.

On Wednesday, the Commission called on national governments to provide political guidelines to the negotiations on the EU budget in order to reach an agreement before the end of the year.

The Parliament also supports new budget priorities that would exclude fossil fuel investments. This is a key demand in the negotiations, as both EU and national funds continue to support fossil fuel use and infrastructure at the expense of sustainable solutions.

In a recent survey carried out across Europe, civil society groups highlighted examples of what they regarded as misuse of funds. Márton Vargha, a transport expert at the Hungarian NGO Clean Air Action Group, found that current spending priorities both at home and in Brussels are “out of touch with reality and deeply concerning.”

Traffic jams plague city streets across Europe

Vargha is from Hungary – one of the only three countries that’s currently rejecting a net-zero carbon emissions target by 2050. He told META that the government spends annually 7% to 13% of the country’s GDP on road transport, which makes it impossible for more sustainable alternatives, such as rail, to compete. “It is absolutely necessary to remove this subsidy as soon as possible,” he said.

For transport, just like for energy infrastructure and use, current investments contradict both science and political calls for increasing climate action, according to most survey participants. “EU institutions and governments must stop financing fossil fuel companies and projects that are responsible for the climate crisis, and redirect investments towards clean solutions and support for those regions that still rely on fossil fuels,” Roland Joebstl, an energy and climate expert for the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), which helped with survey, told META.

Read response to the survey by Clean Air Action Group. The full report will be published in the coming weeks by the group as part of a project on the EU budget.