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27th May 2022

What are the EU climate talks about?

  • How will EU leaders tackle climate change? (Photo: Marina and Enrique)

The leaders of the European governments are meeting this week to discuss climate goals. What are the talks about?

Imagine you are going out to dinner with 27 friends and you have agreed to collectively pay the bill.

Read and decide

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Will you determine how the bill will be paid before you take the first bite of the starter, or will you leave that until the end?

Some would say it is better to first establish what share of the bill each dinner guest will take, others would argue that having a common goal - to pay the bill - is enough incentive to get sufficient cash on the table.

Oh, and it is also not clear yet how much everyone will want to eat.

On 23 and 24 October, EU government leaders - the European Council - are meeting in Brussels to try to reach an agreement on climate targets for 2030.

Just like in the hypothetical dinner party, the question is whether those targets will be set at an EU-level or a member state-level.

There are three issues to be discussed.

- How much should greenhouse gas emissions in the EU be reduced by 2030

- What percentage of the EU's “energy mix” should come from renewable sources

- How much should the EU's energy efficiency be improved by 2030

During the Brussels summit, EU government leaders will try to answer these questions and agree which targets should be binding.

Leaked draft conclusions, dated 13 October and seen by EUobserver, stated the Council "endorsed an EU target of a 40% domestic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990".

The draft conclusions also speak of an "EU target of at least 27%" for renewable energy sources, "binding at EU level" and an "indicative target at the EU level of 30% is set for improving energy efficiency".

But member states disagree over several parts of the draft conclusions.

The European Commission had proposed a 40 percent reduction in emissions, 27 percent of energy from renewable sources and 30 percent more efficient use of energy.

It is up to the government leaders to decide how these targets are translated into national goals.

“What we are proposing now is politically binding EU-level targets, recognising that member states can define their energy mix”, said Humberto Delgado Rosa, director of mainstreaming adaptation and low carbon technology at the commission's climate action department.

If targets are only set at the EU level, the question will be how nation states will be persuaded to do their share.

But it will be difficult to find agreement on binding targets.

“I expect the chance for success is zero”, Dutch PM Mark Rutte said last week in parliament. He said there is “no support in Europe” to translate an EU-wide target of 27 percent renewable energy into individual member state targets.

In a similar tactic of expectation management, German chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday it is “unclear if we're able to agree on a climate-and-energy framework” at the Brussels summit.

Germany wants three binding targets: at least 40 percent emission reductions, at least 30 percent renewables share and 30 percent of energy savings.

Government leaders had previously failed to reach an agreement during talks in March and June.

Denmark is among those pushing for ambitious goals.

“We are still in favour of binding national targets and as ambitious as possible”, climate minister Rasmus Helveg Petersen told EUobserver.

“Will we prevail? I hope so. If not, then the climate changes will”, Petersen said.

For Denmark, it is not too hard to plead for "ambitious" targets, since the country is already on that path

In 2012, 26 percent of Denmark's energy already came from renewable sources. The average EU share of renewable sources that year was 14.1 percent, according to Eurostat.

Poland however, vehemently opposes binding targets. The country depends on coal for 90 percent of its electricity and in 2012 received 11 percent of its energy from renewable sources.

Deputy prime minister of Poland, Janusz Piechocinski, said on Thursday (16 October) it could veto the whole package if it is not changed, Reuters reported.

“If it is the initial [EU] proposal in its current shape, then Poland will have no choice and will have to veto it”, Piechocinski was quoted as saying on Polish radio.

Several other central and eastern European member states express similar views.

Tomas Prouza, the Czech state secretary for European affairs, was quoted Sunday (19 October) by the FT criticizing the commission's “one-size-fits-all approach”.

“If the commission wants to set the target and prescribe to us how we have to go about it, then forget it”, Prouza told the paper.

Poland and the Czech Republic, together with four other central and eastern European countries, recently pleaded for a framework that “reflects different regional needs and circumstances”.

In other words, those at the dinner table who are not so rich, should be treated by the wealthier ones.

The outcome of the summit will be an important signal for the global talks on the climate next year in Paris, when leaders from around the world will discuss global targets.

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