Dismay in some quarters after Parliament fails to clinch 60 percent climate target

Early on Wednesday, it was announced the EU’s three main institutions had reached a deal on the EU Climate Law. The three-way talks lasted 14 hours and ended at 5.15am.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

22 Apr 2021

The deal that was reached commits the EU and Member States to reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by “at least” 55 percent by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.

But this has disappointed some, as the target falls short of the 60 percent reduction that Parliament had voted on last October to be its official position in the talks.

The Greens/EFA group have been calling for as much as a 65 percent reduction which, they say, is in line with scientific recommendations.

Speaking after the deal was agreed, Michael Bloss, Greens/EFA shadow rapporteur on the European Climate Law in the Environment Committee, condemned the “weak” proposal, saying, “With this 2030 climate target, the EU is not doing enough to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, which threatens the fate of current and future generations to a world of climate chaos and economic hardship.”

“The Commission and Council, along with their supporters in the conservative groups, have rushed through a weak climate law for the sake of a photo op with President Joe Biden and missed the chance for the EU to be a global leader on climate action.”

The EU was keen to finish its climate law ahead of a US-hosted virtual “World Leaders Summit” on climate on Thursday and Friday.

Bloss added, “In order to protect the climate and mitigate the worst effects of climate change on our planet, people and for future generations, we need an ambitious and effective European Green Deal. What the Commission so far has delivered is weak. It is not worth being called ‘Europe’s Man on the Moon project’ - we need to save the European Green Deal now.”

In June, the Commission will present its package for implementing the climate goals, which will include legislative proposals on energy efficiency, emissions trading and energy taxation.

On this, Bloss said, “The Commission has a last chance when it releases its ‘Fit for 55’ package in June to propose strong climate policy with a high CO2-price above a hundred euros and an end for combustion engine cars by 2030, as well as a clear plan to switch to fully renewable energy sources as soon as possible.”

His colleague, Dutch MEP Bas Eickhout, deputy chair of the Environment Committee, added, “While we welcome the long-overdue introduction of a climate law, the targets set in tonight’s deal risk making the European Green Deal little more than a slogan for the Commission and Council.”

“The Commission and Council, along with their supporters in the conservative groups, have rushed through a weak climate law for the sake of a photo op with President Joe Biden and missed the chance for the EU to be a global leader on climate action” Michael Bloss, Greens/EFA

“The blockade against ambitious targets by the majority of EU governments undermines the fight against climate change and makes the EU a weak global partner.”

“The addition of an independent scientific council and carbon budget are the silver linings of this agreement, which will at least serve as a base for future action. However, the overall agreement is simply not ambitious enough for the EU to do its part towards saving the climate.”

But the agreement has been welcomed by others, including German EPP member Peter Liese, his group’s spokesman for Health and Environment, who said, “Today’s agreement is historic. The obligation to become climate neutral is now legally binding for the EU and it is the first time that climate targets have been agreed by co-decision with the strong involvement of the Parliament.”

“The agreement is very close to the EPP’s position and far away from the unrealistic position of the majority of the Left and the Greens.”

He added, “55 percent is a very ambitious target. To say it is not overlooks the reality. In the last 30 years, we have reduced 25 percent of greenhouse gases. Now, we have to save an additional 30 percent in the next nine years. This is a huge task that no one should underestimate,” Liese explained.

The deal reached early on Wednesday morning says the main efforts should come from emissions reduction. The remainder is to be achieved by carbon sinks.

A carbon sink is any reservoir, natural or otherwise, that accumulates and stores some carbon-containing chemical compound for an indefinite period. Globally, the two most important carbon sinks are vegetation and oceans.

On the better use of carbon sinks, Liese said, “It is very important that the target is a net target. The efforts of forest owners, farmers that behave in a climate-friendly manner and modern technologies to reduce CO2 need to be included. We need to work on this part of the climate policy much more than in the past.”

Speaking at a news conference in Parliament on Wednesday, Swedish S&D member Jytte Guteland, rapporteur on the EU Climate Law, and French Renew Europe deputy Pascal Canfin, chair of the environment committee, defended the deal.

Guteland said, “There is no doubt we [Parliament] wanted more and for the reduction to be higher. But we secured what we could. We are definitely taking global leadership with this law and this is the leadership the world needs. The EU is the Big Sister in this and the US is not the Big Brother.”

She added, “We did our utmost and accomplished what we could. This is a historic day. The talks were very intense and we are tired after 14 hours of talks, a long night. We worked for a year on this legislation and the timing for this is really good because it sends an important and very strong message to the US summit this week.”

“On the 2030 target, it was agreed that a sentence will be inserted in the law that says we would like more. But I have to say that the sink element will take it to closer to a 57 percent reduction.”

Canfin who led Parliament’s team in the talks, said, “Parliament could not accept 55 percent as that is not ambitious enough so the negotiators  agreed on a ‘at least 55 percent’ wording in the final text.  In reality, I hope the reductions achieved will be nearer 57 percent which is a more ambitious target.”

He went on, “This deal is a game changer. There is a ‘before the Climate Law’ and an ‘after the Climate Law’. We are among first to do this. Yes, parliament wanted to go further, but we had to compromise with the Council of course and, I believe, the target will go up to closer to 57 percent.”

“There is no doubt we [Parliament] wanted more and for the reduction to be higher. But we secured what we could. We are definitely taking global leadership with this law and this is the leadership the world needs”

Jytte Guteland, S&D

Further reaction came from Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who said, “I am delighted that we have reached an agreement on this core element of the European Green Deal. Our political commitment to becoming the first climate-neutral continent by 2050 is now also a legal commitment.”

“The Climate Law sets the EU on a green path for a generation. It is our binding pledge to our children and grandchildren.”

Her colleague, Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal Frans Timmermans, hailed “a landmark moment for the EU.”

He added, “We have reached an ambitious agreement to write our climate neutrality target into binding legislation, as a guide to our policies for the next 30 years. The law will shape the EU's green recovery and ensure a socially just green transition.”

“Today's agreement also reinforces our global position as a leader in tackling the climate crisis. When world leaders gather on Earth Day, the EU will come to the table with this positive news, which we hope will inspire our international partners. This is a good day for our people and our planet.”

The NGO world was less than impressed, with one group saying the EU had “failed to deliver on what could have been an ambitious climate governance framework, including a strong 2030 emissions reductions target.”

Wendel Trio, Director of Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe said, “The fact of the matter is that the outcome of the Climate Law negotiations do not bring us any additional emission reductions on top of what the EU had already agreed.”

“The ‘at least 55 percent emission reduction target for 2030’ is not in line with the Paris Agreement’s ambition to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C. European decision makers missed a historic opportunity to adequately address the climate crisis.”

“This Climate Law is nothing more than a new package for what already exists, rushed by EU lawmakers to bring something to the Leaders’ Summit organised by the US. This is definitely not the kind of Climate Law that will help the EU to lead the global efforts to tackle climate change.”

Greenpeace EU climate campaigner Silvia Pastorelli said the deal “will not be sufficient to restrict global heating to the relatively safe threshold of 1.5°C, which is supported by the Paris climate agreement.”

She added, “The EU is more worried about having something to brag about at Biden’s climate summit than it is about what it means for the climate emergency. This deal shows that Europe’s climate action is all smoke and mirrors.”

“Politicians copying the language of climate marchers are in fact concealing accounting tricks concocted by oil and gas lobbyists. This isn’t much better than business as usual, saddling younger generations with the devastating consequences.”

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