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23rd Oct 2020

Green Deal

Thunberg dubs new EU climate law 'a surrender'

  • 'Until you take the ['carbon budget' approach] seriously, we will remain here in the streets,' said a group of young activists, including Greta Thunberg (Photo: European Parliament)

A group of youth climate activists, including Greta Thunberg, have said that the climate law unveiled by the European Commission on Wednesday (4 March) is a "surrender" that postpones immediate action to mitigate climate change.

"Such a law sends a strong signal that real and sufficient action is being taken when in fact it's not," they said in an open letter to EU leaders at the European Commission, European Parliament and member states.

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"Nature doesn't bargain, and you cannot make deals with physics," they added.

According to the commissioner for the Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, Thunberg explained and urge the colleague of commissioners on Wednesday to adopt the 'carbon budget' approach - which is commonly shared by NGOs and scientists.

She also told MEPs that the proposal was insufficient, adding that it is essential to follow "a science-based pathway".

The 'carbon budget' approach, also known as emission budget, indicates a finite amount of greenhouse gas emission that can be emitted over a specific period of time.

"The 'emissions budget' will be a more transparent and better approach, since it clearly quantifies permissible emissions and underlines the need of drastic and immediate reduction of emissions," the head of international and European governance at the Ecologic Institute, Nils Meyer-Ohlendorf, told EUobserver.

However, the position of the commission to mitigate climate change relies on emissions targets.

The first-ever EU climate law offers a framework to make the 2050 climate-neutrality goal irreversible and legally-binding for all member states, although it failed to update the 2030 target adopted in 2014 - at least 40 percent emission cuts in ten years.

After a risk assessment is in place, the 2030 target might increase towards 50 to 55 percent emissions cuts - which could be essential to pass the law in the European Parliament.

However, despite the bloc's bill being unprecedented worldwide youth activists believe that "net zero emissions by 2050" for the EU equals "surrender" and it means giving up.

"We don't just need goals for just 2030 or 2050. We, above all, need them for 2020 and every following month and year to come," they said, adding that the 'carbon budget' approach applies immediately and not in a faraway future.

"Until you take this seriously, we will remain here in the streets," they warned.

Other criticisms

In addition, the climate law proposal was also criticised by the European Climate Foundation for failing to set up of an independent scientific body able to scrutinise the actions taken by the commission and member states - a common standard in many EU national laws.

"Independent scientific bodies support consistency between climate long-term goals and short-term action. They enhance the role of science, and help build the necessary political will to decarbonise economies," said Meyer-Ohlendorf, who believes that this is a "missed opportunity".

"The Climate Law will ensure we stay focused and disciplined, remain on the right track and are accountable for delivery," said Timmermans, adding that the legislative proposal sent also an "important" message to the EU's international partners.

Carbon border tax coming

To achieve the 2050 climate-neutrality and push other countries to raise their ambition, the commission pledged to protect European industry with the so-called 'carbon border adjustment mechanism'.

As a result, imports could be hit with some form of tariff if they do not meet EU's environmental standards.

The commission confirmed on Wednesday that they officially started to work on the impact assessment that will cover the carbon border tax and on the revision of EU rules for energy taxation.

"As long as many international partners do not share the same ambition as the EU, there is a risk of carbon leakage," reads the communication of the Green Deal.

While this measure could trigger new trade wars with third countries like the US, Timmermans said that "the best way to avoid carbon border tax is to be in the same direction".

"We are absolutely right to protect our industry from carbon leakage," he added.

Timmermans is expected to present the EU law to EU environment ministers on Thursday (5 March), but there will not be a formal exchange of ideas between member states until their next meeting, which is scheduled in June.

However, experts from the member states will dive into the specificities of the legislative proposal already in March.

If the commission's risk assessment for 2030 target is ready in June, the chair of the parliament's environment committee (ENVI), Pascal Canfin, would like ENVI to vote on the proposal in June - before it is submitted to the parliament's plenary in July.

"The European Commission must not slow us down by postponing the impact assessment of the 2030 target until September," Canfin said, adding that an agreed 'trilogue' should be ready before UN climate talks in Glasgow later this year (COP26).

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