EU climate law more ‘man stuck in traffic’ than ‘man on the moon’

The EU’s newly released proposal to address the climate emergency fails to live up to Green Deal promises, Mauro Anastasio writes.

The publication of the first-ever EU Climate Law by the European Commission has drawn criticism from NGOs, with experts arguing that the EU executive has just missed another opportunity to boost its climate neutrality efforts.

The proposed regulation sets out a binding EU target to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, which is now enshrined in EU climate policy. However, it failed to stress the need for higher 2030 targets concerning emissions reduction, renewable energy and energy efficiency.

“The European Commission’s climate law is another serious missed opportunity,” said Barbara Mariani, a policy manager with the European Environmental Bureau (EEB). “By delaying action on increasing the EU’s 2030 climate targets and outlining concrete policy measures, Europe’s ‘man on the moon moment’ looks a lot more like ‘man stuck in traffic’,” she said.

By delaying action on increasing the EU’s 2030 climate targets and outlining concrete policy measures, Europe’s ‘man on the moon moment’ looks a lot more like ‘man stuck in traffic’

Barbara Mariani, EEB

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had previously described the Green Deal as Europe’s “man on the moon moment,” promising an unprecedented wave of climate and energy measures aimed at reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.

Despite welcoming the inclusion of the 2050 climate neutrality target and the promise to consult NGOs when reviewing policies and targets, an EEB analysis concluded that the Climate Law is too little, too late. The low ambition in the regulation risks slowing down the political momentum created by the EU institutions following the publication of the European Green Deal and the EU elections last year, the group said in a statement on Wednesday.

The EEB is particularly concerned about the elements that the Commission is taking into consideration in its Impact Assessment for higher emissions reductions targets, which is due in September 2020. More emphasis is put on short-term economic and competitiveness issues, while not enough emphasis is put on scientific evidence and on the untapped potential of existing solutions such as renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The timing of the Impact Assessment is also alarming, as it doesn’t give the European Parliament and member states enough time to propose stronger targets and legislation in time for the COP26 in November – something that risks putting any legislative proposal on stand-by until 2021, therefore undermining the EU’s global leadership on climate.

“It’s essential that the European Parliament and member states drive higher ambition in this law to ensure that Europe embraces its responsibilities,” concluded Mariani.

Greta Thunberg was visiting Brussels yesterday. She also had something to say about the EU’s climate credentials

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the reaction from business groups was comparatively more positive. Lobby group Business Europe said in a statement that the Climate Law “is an important step to further organise actions towards the EU’s climate neutrality objective,” adding that European businesses support the EU’s climate neutrality ambition by around mid-century.

“The question is not about whether this deep societal transformation is needed – on this we all agree. The key question is about how to get there in an economically and socially feasible manner,” Business Europe director General Markus J. Beyrer was quoted as saying.

In order to pursue efforts to limit the world’s temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius as agreed in the Paris Agreement, the United Nations said that global emissions must be halved in the next decade. This means cutting global emissions by around 8% every year, starting today.

If we accept the science behind these calculations, the EU executive should have set a 65% emissions reduction target by 2030 instead of promising to “exploring options” and “consider taking the necessary measures”.