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24th Jul 2021

EU negotiators strike deal on climate 'law of laws'

  • EU negotiators also agreed on a greenhouse-gas budget for 2030-2050 - which will inform the European Commission on setting an intermediate target for 2040 (Photo: European Parliament)

The European Parliament and the European Council reached a provisional agreement on the first-ever EU climate law in the early hours of Wednesday (21 April) - making the bloc's goal of reaching climate neutrality by 2050 irreversible and legally-binding.

After 14 hours of intense negotiations, they agreed on a net emissions-reduction target (emissions after deduction of removals) of at least 55 percent by 2030 (on 1990 levels) - which would mean a cut in actual "real" emissions of 52.8 percent, or even less.

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  • The UN announced this week that the average global temperature in 2020 was about 1.2-degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels - 'dangerously close' to the 1.5-degree limit advocated by scientists (Photo: Silje Bergum Kinsten)

The parliament, for its part, wanted to cut emissions by 60 percent in the next decade.

Yet, EU negotiators agreed that land use, land-use change and forestry policy, should all contribute more to reducing EU emissions - which should help achieve a nearly 57 percent emission cut.

Until now, the EU-wide goal was at least 40 percent CO2-reduction by 2030.

"The European climate law is 'the law of laws' that sets the frame for the EU's climate-related legislation for the 30 years to come," said João Pedro Matos Fernandes, Portuguese minister of the environment (whose country holds the rotating EU Council presidency.)

Liberal MEP Pascal Canfin, who chairs the European Parliament's committee on environment, said that the parliament "was ready to go for more" but that "there was no space to change the wording 'at least 55 percent'" for the Portuguese presidency.

Similarly, socialist MEP Jytte Guteland, a key negotiator on the climate law, said that she would have preferred to go "all the way to 60 percent in pure reductions".

"But this is a good deal based on science that will make a big difference for the climate," she added.

But Green MEP Michael Bloss said that the legislation "does not live up to its ambition".

"This is not the Green Deal that we need to tackle the climate crisis and not enough for the Paris Agreement," he said.

New expert board

Environmental NGOs, which support a 65-percent-emission cut by 2030, slammed the deal, arguing that it reflects more politics than science.

But they welcomed the proposal of establishing a European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change, pointing out that it must remain politically independent.

"The establishment of an EU-level expert advisory body brings the European Union one step closer to more science-based climate policy," said Romain Laugier from WWF.

This body will be composed of 15 senior scientific experts of different nationalities who will monitor the compatibility of EU measures with the European climate law. It will have a mandate of four years.

The concept of an independent expert advisory body is already a defining element of existing national climate laws.

Carbon budget and 2040 target

Furthermore, EU negotiators also agreed on a greenhouse gas budget for 2030-2050, which will inform the commission on setting an intermediate target for 2040.

The budget is defined as the number of emissions that could be emitted in that period without undermining the EU pledges under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Despite international commitments to tackle global warming, the UN announced this week that the average global temperature in 2020 was about 1.2-degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels - "dangerously close" to the 1.5-degree Celsius limit advocated by scientists.

To ensure that member states make sufficient efforts to reduce emissions in the next decade, EU negotiators agreed to introduce a limit (of 225 Mt of CO2 equivalent) to the contribution of removals to the net target.

This limit aims to maximise the effective emission-cuts of member states in the calculation towards 2030, making sure sinks are not a "loophole," Guteland said.

Increasing 'sinks'

Meanwhile, policymakers acknowledged that the EU should increase the volume of carbon net sink by 2030 - aiming to achieve negative emissions after 2050, where more CO2 is taken out than is being put into the atmosphere.

Besides artificial carbon removal and storage technologies, crucial natural carbon sinks are oceans, wetlands and forests.

However, Europe has been losing an increased forest area to harvesting in recent years - especially in Sweden and Finland.

The commission will also engage with the different economic sectors to prepare specific, but voluntary, roadmaps to reduce their emissions, while monitoring their progress.

EU member states which do not comply with the climate law will face fines and sanctions.

Pressure on Biden?

The agreement comes ahead of US president Joe Biden's climate summit, when Washington will unveil its own emission reduction target.

"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," said EU commissioner for the Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, welcoming the deal as a "landmark moment".

The provisional agreement reached on Wednesday still has to be approved by the EU Council and EU Parliament, which is expected in two or three weeks.

In June, the commission will present a series of revisions and regulations under its 'Fit for 55%' climate and energy package. MEPs said that 50 EU laws will have to change between now and June.

Earlier this week, the UK announced a 78 percent emissions-reduction target by 2035.

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