31st Mar 2023

MEPs vote down EU climate laws in dramatic upset

  • Socialists & Democrats MEPs discuss how to respond to extension of pollution permits for industry to 2034 (Photo: European Parliament)
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In a high-stakes political drama, MEPs on Wednesday (8 June) rejected three major pieces of climate legislation in a plenary vote in Strasbourg, delaying EU efforts to reduce carbon emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030.

Political parties had already reached an agreement in the environmental committee (ENVI) in May which pushed for even faster emissions reduction in Europe than the EU Commission originally had proposed.

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Typically plenary votes largely follow these agreements.

But intense pressure from industry groups in the past days has derailed Wednesday's settlement in parliament.

"The lobbying is extreme," Mohammed Chahim, MEP for the Socialists & Democrats overseeing the proposed carbon tax, or Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), told EUobserver shortly before the vote.

"I have rarely seen so much pressure from lobbies to slow down Europe's [climate] action," MEP Pierre Larouturou also tweeted before the vote.

At first, MEPs seemed to follow the script set out by the ENVI committee and agreed to increase ambitions on most major pieces of legislation.

Lawmakers agreed to extend emissions trading — a tax on pollution that can be traded using credits — to aviation and shipping, plus a separate system for commercial housing, cars, and vans.

This would help to push down carbon pollution by 63 percent in total in the next eight years, slightly higher than the commission's targets.

A carbon levy on goods imported to the EU, a protectionist measure shielding EU industry from outside competition, and the social climate fund, designed to protect households against higher energy and fuel bills, had also been expected to be approved.

But an agreement collapsed when three parties on the right, the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), the rightwing European Conservatives & Reformists (ECR) and the hard-right Identity (ID) group, gained a majority for an amendment which would extend free pollution permits for industrial producers to 2034 instead of 2032.

"A clear sign that many MEPs put industry lobby interests above all else," Klaus Röhrig, energy expert at Brussels based NGO Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, called it.

Green parties and parties on the left refused to accept the 2034 date because this would likely push EU emissions above levels set out by the European Climate Law.

"Some want to have CBAM and keep free allowances. You cannot have your cake, eat it & have the cherry on top. It frustrates me that they pretend to fight for the climate goals," Chahim told lawmakers on Tuesday referring to industry and, potentially, some of his lobby-beholden colleagues.

When ECR and ID blocked an effort to compromise, a majority became impossible for the carbon border levy, the social climate fund and the emissions trading scheme for commercial buildings and vehicles, because the pollution phase-out scheme is integral to all three.

"This is an unexpected situation, but we will manage," liberal MEP Pascal Canfin, chair of the ENVI committee, said at a press conference following the vote.

Other commentators handled their disappointment with less equanimity.

"It's all very dramatic at the moment," an environmental campaigner present at the scene told EUobserver.

New negotiations are expected to start in July.

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