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Make-or-break talks on EU climate action to begin this week

National governments hope to reach a common position on Europe’s emissions reduction for 2030 in a key meeting this Thursday.

The bloc’s 27 heads of state and government in the European Council are expected to push for a net 55% greenhouse gas emissions reduction target to be achieved by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. Despite an increase from the current 40%, this is not enough to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C as agreed under the Paris Agreement, the EEB warned ahead of the meeting.

Barbara Mariani, Senior Policy Officer for Climate and Energy with the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), said:

“A net -55% emissions target is way below what science requires and what the European Parliament has called for. Scientific evidence clearly shows that a 65% target for 2030 is needed to avoid the worst consequences of climate breakdown and guarantee a safe future for millions of young Europeans.

Increased climate action must be Europe’s way out of the COVID19 crisis. It’s the only sustainable way to create more and better jobs while making our industry and economy more resilient. We urge EU governments to listen to science and ensure much more ambition on the EU target.”

Background and recommendations

If a political agreement on the target is reached, ministers in the Environment Council will adopt a general agreement on the Climate Law when they meet on 17 December. The Council will then be able to advance in negotiations with the European Parliament, which are expected to end in the first quarter of 2021.

Governments have already split over the target, with Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden reportedly pushing for a 55% target. Before committing to any target, Poland, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia are expected to demand more clarity on the financial instruments that the EU will provide to boost the clean energy transition. Negotiations between the Council and the Parliament on this front are also ongoing as part of separate discussions on the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility, although the governments and institutions are unlikely to reach an agreement this week.

A net 55% emissions reduction target was originally proposed by the European Commission earlier this year. EU officials also want international carbon offsets to be counted towards the final target – something NGOs dismiss as nothing short of an accounting trick. However, in October, the Parliament voted to increase the target to a more ambitious 60% and also rejected the inclusion of carbon offsets.

In an unexpected turn of events, the UK’s prime minister Boris Johnson announced last week the intention to reduce emissions across the country by 68% – the highest target ever agreed in Europe to date.

In the meantime, several studies have shown that a more ambitious 65% target is not only feasible, but also financially desirable. The latest scientific evidence in the IPCC 5th Report also indicates that an effort by the EU of at least 65% emissions reduction is needed by 2030 to avoid the worst consequences of climate breakdown.

A recent study by the EEB and CAN Europe – in cooperation with academia and grid operators –  shows that should an intermediate target be increased to 65%, the EU would boost its chances to reach climate neutrality in 2040 – that’s 10 years earlier than originally planned.

The EEB has called on EU leaders to:

  • Support a 2030 target of at least 65% emissions reduction across the EU;
  •  Match such commitment with an effort to increase the energy efficiency target to at least 45%, with at least 50% of energy sourced from sustainable renewable energy by 2030;
  •  Make the EU’s climate-neutrality target binding for each member state, and not only for the EU as a whole;
  • Ensure mainstreaming of climate neutrality through ambitious fiscal measures, including effective “carbon pricing” to address the true cost of negative externalities on the environment;
  •  Ensure that all financial support (EU, national and private finance) is aligned with the climate-neutrality objective and with phasing out investments in fossil fuel infrastructure;
  •  Ensure that climate targets will not compromise other priority environmental goals, such as biodiversity protection – particular care is needed as regards biomass development, hydropower and afforestation;
  • Press for a greater level of climate ambition in the Recovery and Resilience Facility as well as the climate share of the EU budget to address the climate challenge, including the Just Transition Fund. This should be done by ringfencing of sustainable Paris-compatible funding and exclusion of funding for Paris-incompatible measures that lock in future fossil fuel use and GHG emissions;
  • Ensure policy synergies between climate and resource efficiency, climate and biodiversity via nature management and restoration agendas (peatlands, wetlands, forests, coastal sea grasslands), climate and agriculture by strengthening the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy to drive higher investment in measures that increase soil carbon content and hence storage, with added benefits for soil fertility and productivity, and climate and air pollution policies;
  • Recognise the importance of an ambitious implementation of the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 to demonstrate leadership in the negotiations on the Global Biodiversity Framework.

Notes for editors

Other relevant discussion points the Council’s agenda this week include:

  • Carbon border adjustment – see EEB position

  •  Emission Trading System (ETS) – see EEB position

  • Biodiversity (ahead of next year’s COP 15 in China)