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Make-or-break talks on EU climate action begin today

National governments hope to reach a common position on Europe’s emissions reduction for 2030 in a key meeting starting this Thursday. It’s already looking bad.

The bloc’s 27 heads of state and government in the European Council are expected to push for a net 55% greenhouse gas emissions reduction target to be achieved by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.

If a political agreement on the target is reached this week, ministers in the Environment Council will adopt a general agreement on Europe’s first-ever Climate Law when they meet next week. This would allow the Council and the European Parliament to begin the last stage of negotiations and hopefully reach an agreement on the emissions reduction target in the first quarter of 2021 – in time to prepare for next years’ UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow.

As already agreed in March, this intermediate target will be raised from the current 40%. However, this is not enough to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C as agreed under the Paris Agreement, the NGOs warned ahead of the meeting.

Barbara Mariani, a senior policy officer with the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), said that “a net -55% emissions target is way below what science requires and what the European Parliament has called for.”

Several studies have recently shown that a more ambitious 65% target is not only feasible, but also financially desirable. The latest scientific evidence in the IPCC 5th Report also indicates that an effort by the EU of at least 65% emissions reduction is needed by 2030 to avoid the worst consequences of climate breakdown. According to a recent energy scenario published by the EEB and CAN Europe – in cooperation with academia and grid operators –  a net -65% target would also boost its chances to reach climate neutrality in 2040 – that’s 10 years earlier than originally planned.

Increased climate action must be Europe’s way out of the COVID19 crisis. It’s the only sustainable way to create more and better jobs while making our industry and economy more resilient,” she added while urging EU governments to listen to science and ensure much more ambition on the EU target.

A net 55% emissions reduction target was originally proposed by the European Commission earlier this year. EU officials also want international carbon offsets to be counted towards the final target – something NGOs dismiss as nothing short of an accounting trick. However, in October, the Parliament voted to increase the target to a more ambitious 60% and also rejected the inclusion of carbon offsets.

Meanwhile, at the negotiation table, governments have already split over the target. Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden are reportedly pushing for a 55% target. Before committing to any target, Poland, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia are expected to demand more clarity on the financial instruments that the EU will provide to boost the clean energy transition.

In an unexpected turn of events, the UK’s prime minister Boris Johnson announced last week the intention to reduce emissions across the country by 68% – the highest target ever agreed in Europe to date.

The EEB has called on EU leaders to:

  • Support a 2030 target of at least 65% emissions reduction across the EU;
  •  Match such commitment with an effort to increase the energy efficiency target to at least 45%, with at least 50% of energy sourced from sustainable renewable energy by 2030;
  • Make the EU’s climate-neutrality target binding for each member state, and not only for the EU as a whole;
  • Ensure mainstreaming of climate neutrality through ambitious fiscal measures, including effective ‘carbon pricing’ to address the true cost of negative externalities on the environment;
  •  Ensure that all financial support (EU, national and private finance) is aligned with the climate-neutrality objective and with phasing out investments in fossil fuel infrastructure;
  •  Ensure that climate targets will not compromise other priority environmental goals, such as biodiversity protection – particular care is needed as regards biomass development, hydropower and afforestation;
  • Press for a greater level of climate ambition in the Recovery and Resilience Facility as well as the climate share of the EU budget to address the climate challenge, including the Just Transition Fund. This should be done by ringfencing sustainable Paris-compatible funding and excluding funding for Paris-incompatible measures that lock in future fossil fuel use and GHG emissions;
  • Ensure policy synergies between climate and resource efficiency, climate and biodiversity via nature management and restoration agendas (peatlands, wetlands, forests, coastal sea grasslands), climate and agriculture, by strengthening the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy to drive higher investment in measures that increase soil carbon content and hence storage, with added benefits for soil fertility and productivity, and climate and air pollution policies;
  • Recognise the importance of an ambitious implementation of the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 to demonstrate leadership in the negotiations on the Global Biodiversity Framework.