28th Mar 2023

No 2030 climate-target deal would 'cost EU leadership'

EU leaders will decide this week whether to increase the EU's emission-reduction target to 55 percent by 2030, from the current goal of 40 percent.

If the new target is unanimously adopted by the head of states and government on Thursday (10 December), the 27-bloc will be able to submit a new pledge under the UN Paris climate agreement before the end-of-year deadline.

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However, climate discussions will take place in a context of tensions over the rule of law and the EU's long-term budget, which Poland and Hungary are threatening to veto.

The ongoing clashes between member states are expected to influence, in one way or the other, the debate on the climate objectives for 2030.

An EU official warned on Monday that EU leaders are unlikely to strike a deal on the new climate target if no breakthrough is reached over the EU budget before the summit.

However, some experts remain optimistic that a deal is very much possible as pressure mounts on the EU to update its pledge under the Paris Agreement before the end of 2020.

Under the Paris Agreement, countries are required to set goals for their climate efforts every five years to limit global heating to "well below two degrees". New goals are expected from all the signatories that have ratified the climate deal.

"An agreement on climate might be the most positive thing coming out of this council. The time is right for a decision," said the director of the Brussels-based NGO Climate Action Network Europe, Wendel Trio.

However, it would be "an embarrassment" for the EU to attend this Saturday's online event, marking the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement, without updating its commitments, Trio said.

"This would put into question the EU's leadership, limiting the EU's role at the international level," he warned.

Ever since the planned COP26 UN climate conference was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the upcoming climate ambition summit is seen as this years's key event on climate diplomacy.

So far, only 16 countries (representing merely 4.6 percent of global emissions) have formally submitted a new or updated 2030 target, according to the World Resources Institute. These include Norway, Japan and New Zealand.

The G20 countries are responsible for about 80 percent of global emissions, of which around 10 percent are attributable to the EU.

Gas and nuclear

The draft conclusions for the summit, seen by EUobserver, would see members states endorse a binding EU-wide target of "at least 55 percent," while promoting the right of national governments to choose their own domestic energy mix.

This so-called "technological neutrality" ensures member states, such as the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Poland or France will be able to use nuclear energy or natural gas to reduce their emissions.

That is controversial because lifecycle emissions from fossil gas use can in some cases exceed those of coal, undermining the energy transition of countries deeply dependent on this fossil fuel.

Additionally, green groups warned that the political sensitivity surrounding nuclear energy in some member states undermines the Green Deal objectives while increasing the exposure of people and environment to the risk of serious and long-lasting accidents.

Member states are also expected to call on the European Commission to make extra cash available from the bloc's internal carbon market (the European Emission Trading System) to reduce energy poverty - a request made by countries such as Poland, which currently generates about 80 percent of its electricity from coal.

Once EU leaders reach an agreement, they will still have to find a compromise with the European Parliament, which recently called for a higher, 60-percent, emission-cut in the next decade.

Pressure from cities

Meanwhile, regions and cities warned EU leaders that a bottom-up approach is essential for the success of the Green Deal as local authorities are ultimately responsible for policy implementation.

"EU member states must agree to cut carbon emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030 and approve the EU's long-term budget and recovery plans without delay," said on Tuesday the president of the Committee of the Regions, Apostolos Tzitzikostas.

"Local and regional leaders understand that making our homes energy-efficient, recycling our waste, or making our transport cleaner, makes environmental and economic sense," he added.

EU regions want to end all public subsidies for fossil fuels and expand the Just Transition Fund, intended to support fossil-fuel dependent regions, to make a rapid transition to more sustainable economies.

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