On April 21, 2021 at 5 o’clock, the negotiators of the European Parliament, the European Council and the EU Commission agreed on a new European Climate Law. Unfortunately, despite 14 hours of negotiations the result is very disappointing. The new EU climate target for 2030 does not meet the requirements of the Paris Climate Agreement, the EU Parliament could not prevail with its still halfway ambitious targets. Europe is thus giving up the chance to play a global climate pioneering role.
After the disappointing results of the Common European Agricultural Policy (CAP), this climate bill is now a further setback in the fight against the climate crisis. This is not the way to achieve Commission President Ursula von der Leyens Green Deal, let alone keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Here is a detailed overview of the new European Climate Law:
Climate Target 2030
One of the most important objectives of the new climate law is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. To this end, a target should be set for 2030 that establishes a reduction as compared to 1990 levels. The European Parliament, in a 2020 vote, has called for a reduction target of 60%. The Council, i.e. the European heads of state and government, did not move from their position of 55% net greenhouse gas reduction by 2030. What this seemingly small difference means in practice is shown by this study commissioned by the Greens in the European Parliament.
Unfortunately a lot of arithmetic trickery can be done with such numbers. The 55% “net greenhouse gas reduction” to which the European heads of state and governments have pledged, for example, only mean a real emissions reduction of 52.8%. This is because the calculations are based purely on superficial values for so-called “sinks”, i.e. natural emission reduction factors, such as forests. These sinks are supposed to ensure in a natural way that emitted greenhouse gases are recaptured. A planned expansion of such “sinks” can therefore lead to the assumption of a higher reduction value than what can be really accounted for. This is because it is unclear where this large build-up of natural sinks, such as forests, is supposed to come from. In almost all European countries the climate crisis with its droughts is causing forests to die off and the sinks are shrinking. It also takes decades for newly planted forests to actually absorb the levels of CO2 calculated here. The EU Commission goes even further, stating that they intend to increase the net EU sink to 300 Mt of CO2 by 2030. Thus it wants to increase the net target to 57% still with only 52.8% real emissions reductions. But without member state approval all of this is more a vague statement of intent and than serious commitment.
Climate neutrality 2050
The Council refused to establish the net-zero target for all member states. Thus the target remains a Union wide net-zero target and does not have to be achieved by each and every Member State.
Access to Justice
The right to climate action that has been demanded by European Parliament unfortunately also was not accepted by the heads of state.
Greenhouse Gas Budget
The European Council and the European Parliament have agreed to create a greenhouse gas budget for the period 2030 to 2050 that should be taken into account, among other criteria, when setting the 2040 target. This budget is intended to make visible the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that can be emitted during this period in order to meet the framework of the Paris climate agreement – in other words, a kind of account overview of how much pollution we can still afford. That means, however, that we don’t have an overview of the EU’s greenhouse gas budget until 2030, despite the fact that scientists emphasize that this decade is crucial in determining whether our emissions reductions will help us reach the target of less than 1.5 or 2 degrees of global warming. In other words, the EU will set up a GHG budget for a period where little (if any) will be left of the global budget to remain below 1.5°C.
The Parliament was not able to push through the end of fossil fuel subsidies in the law. The Commission has promised to come back to this issue of defining energy subsidies, including fossil fuel subsidies, by further clarifying rules under the Governance Regulation.
International shipping & aviation
The wording on this matter is very vague but it is fair to say that the common understanding is that the target does not include international shipping & aviation. Thus it neglects two sectors that are among the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters.
At least two small successes could be reached
European Climate Council
The European Council and European Parliament have agreed to establish a European Climate Council. The main task of the Advisory Board is to provide scientific advice and issuing reports on existing and proposed Union measures, climate targets and indicative GHG budgets, and their coherence with the Union’s commitments under the Paris Agreement. It will be composed of 15 scientific experts nominated for a mandate of 4 years and nominated by the Management Board of the European Environment Agency, selected on merit and scientific excellence, aiming for gender and geographical balance.
The Council agreed to reinforce wording on ensuring that all future legislative proposals, including budgetary proposals, should be consistent with the 2030 target and the climate-neutrality objective.