EU climate law: Member states and interest groups demand more ambition

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From pv magazine Germany.

The EU has outlined the trade bloc’s future course on climate protection with its “European Green Deal”, which the European Commission announced today.

“With this act, the goal of a climate-neutral economy and society in Europe by 2050, as enshrined in the European Green Deal, will be laid down in law,” the European Commission announced on its website. “The act ensures that all EU policies contribute to this goal and that all sectors of the economy and all groups in society play their part.”

Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said: “We are acting today to make the EU the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050. The Climate Law is the legal translation of our political commitment and sets us irreversibly on the path to a more sustainable future. It is the heart of the European Green Deal. It offers predictability and transparency for European industry and investors. And it gives direction to our green growth strategy and guarantees that the transition will be gradual and fair.”

The actual text of the law is still to be negotiated by the EU’s 27 member states, excluding Britain, which no longer has voting rights during the transition period before its departure from the bloc at the end of the year. The hope is that member states can finalize the wording by October so that the EU, as a signatory to the Paris Climate Accord, can present its final plan to the UN Climate Change Conference due to be held in Glasgow in November.

Leak

The planned climate law, a draft of which had been leaked online on Monday, stipulates that from 2050 the amount of greenhouse gas extracted from the atmosphere in the EU will be higher than emissions of the same type. According to the Climate Change Act, EU member states will take measures to achieve that goal, however the act does not specify precise requirements.

The act also mandates a raised greenhouse gas reduction target for 2030. The current goal is to reduce emissions 40% from their 1990 reference-year level by 2030. The Climate Change Act will raise the bar to 50-55%, with the new target in force from September. The devil is again in the detail, or lack of it, with the commission bound only to explain how that will be achieved at an, unspecified, future stage. According to the Climate Change Act, the commission wants to evaluate the progress made by member states by September 30, 2023 and then every five years after that. If member states undermine the EU’s climate protection targets, they could face sanctions. Also, if it becomes apparent the measures taken to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 are insufficient, the European Commission would be permitted to make adjustments from 2030 – in what has already been interpreted in some quarters as a classic example of the bloc again kicking the can down the road.

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The lack of detail in the document leaked online prompted member states Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Austria, Slovenia, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden to write to the commission demanding the 2030 targets be brought in as soon as possible, by the end of June at the latest.

Unproven technology

Molly Walsh, a climate justice campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, said: “A target 30 years in the future does not represent emergency climate action, our house is on fire and Europe is still twiddling its thumbs. We need to end the fossil fuel age in years, not decades, to keep the planet safe. Europe is betting on unproven technologies and carbon sinks to suck up carbon we belched into the atmosphere when we should be ending fossil fuels. Europe must do our fair share to keep global heating below 1.5 degrees –  meaning real zero-carbon emissions, and fast.”

German environmental organization Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) said the planned climate law fell far short of expectations. “The commission has missed the opportunity to set binding interim targets and to put an end to clearly climate-damaging practices such as the promotion of fossil infrastructure,” said DUH federal executive director Sascha Müller-Kraenner. Aside from climate neutrality, he added, the only innovation was to give the commission powers to set interim climate policy targets from 2030.

2030 target needed

German renewable energy group the Bundesverband Erneuerbare Energie (BEE) said the introduction of such a legal framework obliging member states to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 was long overdue. “Unfortunately, however, an important milestone is missing until then,” said BEE president Simone Peter, “an ambitious target for 2030 which is indispensable for achieving the Paris climate targets and is needed for the negotiations at the UN climate summit in Glasgow in November.”

Peter said renewables were critical to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the EU by 2050 and called upon the German government to use its presidency of the European Council in the second half of the year to accelerate the energy transition in the bloc.

The BEE president added, the government should remove any caps on renewables installation – such as the German legislation which stipulates subsidies for small scale solar will halt once the nation hits 52 GW of total subsidized solar capacity – and paths to ensuring Germany generates 65% of its electricity from renewables by 2030 must be laid out in detail.