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30th Mar 2020

EU leaders gear up for heated climate summit

  • Government leaders will officially appoint Juncker's new commission (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

The EU's 28 leaders are meeting on Thursday (23 October) in Brussels for what are expected to be tough negotiations on climate targets.

“The negotiations will not be simple and I can't say if there will be a deal”, German chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday afternoon after arriving in Brussels.

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British prime minister David Cameron did not mention the climate targets when speaking to journalists.

“What I hope for from this summit is that we address some of the risks that we face”, Cameron said, naming ebola and the economy as those risks.

The so-called climate and energy framework is expected to contain specific targets for 2030 in the form of percentages.

While the European commission, which did a sort of opening bid in January, emphasizes its targets are “in line with science”, the figures fall victim to political bargaining.

At least seven of the EU's 28 member states, mostly central and eastern European countries, want a 25 percent target for energy efficiency by 2030, instead of the 30 percent proposed by the commission and laid down in the draft conclusions.

They fear too ambitious goals will harm their competitiveness towards non-EU states.

A diplomatic source from one member state predicted the negotiators will end up with an efficiency figure in the middle: “I guess it will be 27 percent.”

The talks of Thursday focus on three targets for 2030. In addition to the efficiency target, EU leaders will discuss what share of the EU's energy should come from renewable sources in 2030, and by how much greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced.

However countries come with a shopping list of ‘wants’. The UK wants only a greenhouse gas target. Ireland wants its heavy dependence on agriculture taken into account. Central and easter European countries want “conditional targets” which can be adjusted depending on the outcome of global climate talks in Paris in 2015.

This is because the EU by itself cannot limit global warming - it will need to convince other countries to also cut back on emissions.

The average global temperature has already risen about 0.85 degrees Celsius between 1880 and 2012, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The European Commission, the EU's executive organisation, believes that to achieve the goal of not having the global average temperature increase by more than 2 degree Celsius (seen by experts as the minimum that needs to be achieved) the EU should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent in 2050 – compared to the level in 1990.

The commission says that a 40 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emission by 2030 – again, compared to 1990 levels – will put the bloc on track for the 2050 goal of an 80 percent reduction, athough this is disputed by environmental groups.

Brigitte Knopf, researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, emphasizes that science alone cannot be the only basis for policy-makers.

“How to distribute the burden? Who has to reduce how much of the emissions? These are ethical questions which clearly belong to the policy side.”

These questions will be discussed in Brussels starting Thursday afternoon, evening and possibly night.

Economy

While EU leaders will tackle climate change on Thursday, tomorrow will see them talk about the economy amid heightened concerns about the health of the Eurozone.

A special meeting of the 18 single currency leaders, as well European Central Bank Chief Mario Draghi, will begin at lunchtime.

Worries about the eurozone have begun to increase again amid fears of deflation and with Germany, the biggest economy, suffering a slowdown.

Last week, the International Monetary Fund warned there is a 40 percent chance of the eurozone falling into recession again.

The meeting also comes against the backdrop of highly sensitive assessments of national budgets to be taken by the European Commission, with France particularly on Brussels' radar.

Ebola

EU leaders are also due to discuss how to increase their support for Ebola-stricken countries in west Africa.

UK leader David Cameron is set to ask EU leaders to follow the UK in screening air passengers coming from the outbreak zone. Only France and Belgium have screening at their main airports.

Earlier this week foreign ministers agreed to more co-ordination of resources to fight the disease.

European Commission

Finally, in what is mostly a formality, the council wll appoint the new European Commission under the leadership of Jean-Claude Juncker.

This summit thus also is a send-off for Juncker's predecessor, Jose-Manuel Barroso. It is also the last council summit chaired by Herman van Rompuy, who will be succeeded by Donald Tusk.

What are the EU climate talks about?

With climate targets only set at the EU level, the key question is how member states will be persuaded to do their share.

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