Keeping Europe’s emission reduction goals on track

By matching the EU’s climate ambitions with bold actions, Europe can be a global leader in the fight against climate change, argues Jessica Polfjärd
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By Jessica Polfjärd

Jessica Polfjärd (SE, EPP) is a member of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety

10 Feb 2022

The European Parliament remains a driving force for Europe’s climate work. With stronger rules on national emission reduction targets, the European Union can align its climate policies with new ambitious targets. When Parliament and Member States agreed on the European climate law last year, the EU set new emission targets for 2030 and embraced the goal of climate neutrality by 2050.

Now is the time to match these ambitions with action. If executed correctly, these efforts can make the EU a leader in the global climate transition. To achieve this, we must combine decreases in emissions with economic growth and strengthened competitiveness. If we succeed, our efforts will enjoy the support from our citizens and serve as inspiration for other parts of the world. 

“I want to see Member States cutting emissions by 2030 to a much greater extent

The Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR) will be a key tool in achieving Europe’s climate transition. This framework regulates 60 per cent of the emissions in the EU arising from key sectors including agriculture, transports, buildings, waste and smaller industries and sets binding emission reduction targets for all Member States.

Strengthening these targets will be crucial for delivering on the climate law. In my work as the Parliament’s lead negotiator for the ESR, I want to see Member States cutting emissions by 2030 to a much greater extent. Currently, emissions from the ESR sectors need to decrease by 29 percent by 2030. Increasing this to 40 percent will be a major step to achieving the overall goal of making the EU “Fit for 55”.

While most of the European Commission’s focus tends to lie on this overall target, I find it equally important that all Member States contribute towards the climate ambitions. The current national targets do not require all Member States to lower their emissions. The new proposal changes this: all EU Member States must now join in on the action.

This is something that the European Parliament has long called for, and it is very much overdue. In addition to these key provisions, there are several areas where the European Commission’s proposal can be strengthened, loopholes can be closed, and credibility can be further secured. I encourage Member States to agree with, and stick to this principle, in their work on the ESR. First, we need to ensure that the 2030 targets are actually met.

I have therefore made several proposals to maintain strict targets. Several potential loopholes, such as the ability of Member States to ’borrow’ emission allowances from their future emissions budget or tap into a new reserve of allowances, have been restricted in my report. This will help put the EU on track to meet its climate goals. 

Second, the ESR must be better aligned with the objective of climate neutrality by 2050. The ESR sets emissions targets up until 2030. Yet there is nothing to link this to the target of climate neutrality enshrined in EU law under the climate law. It was the position of the European Parliament and the EPP group that each Member States should meet the objectives of the climate law.

I have therefore proposed to strengthen the Commission’s proposal by creating a clear legal link between the ESR and the climate law, to codify some steps to be taken by Member States post-2030 and to set the EU on track towards climate neutrality by 2050. As part of this effort, I have asked the Commission to conduct a mid-term assessment of the new national targets as well as to put forward new targets once they expire.

“Current sanctions for non-compliance with the provisions of the ESR are weak. I propose to change this by introducing a ’Pressure and Pay’ system, which focuses on increasing transparency and introducing financial penalties”

Third, a key aspect in EU law-making is that the Union is diverse, and Member States have distinctive characteristics. As we increase our ambitions, we should also offer Member States the opportunity to reach their targets in the manner that is most appropriate for them. For some, this could be done by purchasing emission allowances on the EU ETS market. If another Member State wishes to use technologies such as carbon capture and utilisation, they should be able to do so. To be in the lead, Europe must look to innovation for solutions and opportunities.

Last, we need to strengthen the compliance rules. Failure to comply with the climate targets must lead to consequences. Unfortunately, the current sanctions for non-compliance with the provisions of the ESR are weak. I propose to change this by introducing a ’Pressure and Pay’ system, which focuses on increasing transparency and introducing financial penalties.

All the proceeds from these penalties should be directed towards climate action programmes within the EU - a key element that will preserve the integrity of the legislation and ensure a coordinated focus on the environment and climate.

With these proposals, we can strengthen the ESR and put our policies on track to deliver on our targets. They will also allow the European Parliament to send a clear signal to the Member States and European citizens. 

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