With the European Commission having yesterday presented its first climate law to the European Parliament’s committee on environment, public health and food safety (ENVI), president Ursula von der Leyen may not have anticipated the dismay voiced in response to a cornerstone policy package she promised to deliver within 100 days of taking office.
The draft legislation will have to be passed by the parliament and the European Council comprised of the leaders of the 27 member states with full voting rights, with all the dangers of watering down and renegotiation that entails.
While guaranteeing the trading bloc a carbon-free economy in 2050 is at the heart of the proposed law, the lack of sterner requirements from member states over the next decade has prompted a flurry of negative reactions.
Fridays for Future, Greta Thunberg
The Fridays for Future school climate protest movement headed by Greta Thunberg criticized a lack of ambition and science-based targets. Thunberg and 33 leading Fridays for Future activists stated, in an open letter to EU institutions: “We will not be satisfied with anything less than a science-based pathway which gives us the best possible chance to safeguard the future living conditions for humanity and life on Earth as we know it. Anything else is surrender. This climate law is surrender – because nature doesn’t bargain and you cannot make ‘deals’ with physics.”
The group criticized the fact 2050 is the key date in the legislation, rather than 2030. Currently available climate science, said the activists, indicate the world only has an eight-year carbon budget at current levels if global warming is to be kept at less than 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Addressing the ENVI committee yesterday, Thunberg said: “The best chance we have for staying below a 1.5C global average temperature rise, given by the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], is a 67% probability. To give us those chances, we have a budget of less than 340Gt of CO2 left to emit globally to stay within that target … Your distant targets will mean nothing if high emissions continue like today, even for just a few more years, because that will use up our remaining carbon budget before we even have the chance to deliver on your 2030 or 2050 goals. ‘Net-zero emissions by 2050’ for the EU equals surrender. It means giving up. We don’t just need goals for just 2030 or 2050. We, above all, need them for 2020 and every following month and year to come.”
Climate Action Network
Wendel Trio, director of Tanzania-based NGO umbrella organization the Climate Action Network said of the proposed legislation: “The European Climate Law risks becoming an empty shell as the leaked draft [which emerged on Monday] provides no clear roadmap on the EU’s trajectory to reach its agreed 2050 climate-neutrality goal, 2030 being the main milestone. By proposing a 2030 target increase only in September, the commission will give member states no time to reach an agreement by [the] COP26 [climate change summit in Glasgow] in November, the international deadline by which all countries must commit to new, ambitious climate pledges for 2030. The EU needs to have its own house in order and quickly to push other countries to make substantial contributions well before the [November] deadline.”
Trio suggested the heads of member states could use their planned meetings in March and June to thrash out an agreement to achieve a 65% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, based on 1990 reference-year levels. That would represent a more stringent target than the 50-55% suggested in the draft law, which would only come into force from September. However, distractions such as dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak in Europe – notably in Italy; a potential fresh migrant crisis in Greece; and negotiating a post-Brexit trade settlement with the U.K. by the end of the year are likely to eat up a lot of European Council committee time.
Like Thunberg, Trio also criticized the lack of science-based objectives in the Climate Law draft. “The council and the European Parliament must improve the law so that it provides for the creation of an independent scientific advisory body, the only guarantee to ensure the EU’s climate targets are based on the latest available science,” wrote the director.
Sebastian Mang, a climate policy adviser for environmental organization Greenpeace EU, said: “With no plans for a science-based 2030 target, nor measures to end fossil fuel subsidies, we’re setting ourselves up for failure. Decades of dithering and half measures have led us to a point where the very survival of life on Earth is at risk from climate breakdown. The time to act is now, not in 10 years.”
Greenpeace added in a statement issued in response to the draft legislation, if carbon reductions had been taken seriously ten years ago, the annual reductions required would have been around 3.3% per year. A recent UN report, said the charity, now suggests 7.6% carbon reductions are necessary annually to stay within the 1.5-degree Celsius limit. That figure would escalate to 65% by 2030 if we continue as we are, according to Greenpeace Europe.
European solar industry body SolarPower Europe was at least gracious enough to concede Von der Leyen’s plan was a start.
“The proposal for a Climate Law is a step in the right direction for achieving climate neutrality by 2050,” said CEO Walburga Hemetsberger. “The law would ensure a strong legal basis for the European Green Deal, sending a powerful signal about the EU’s role as a global climate leader, and would make Europe the first continent to have a legally binding climate neutrality target.
“Solar power, as the most low-cost and easily deployed clean energy technology, will play a crucial role in supporting member states to achieve net-zero emissions. For the solar sector, the climate law offers further assurance that the EU takes the energy transition seriously, affirming the necessity of ramping up solar development and deployment.
“To make this happen we need to see the establishment of a Clean Energy Package implementation body which will ensure that all necessary policies for the deployment of renewable energies are developed at a national level and in a harmonized way. It is also important to look at additional efforts to solve national bottlenecks related to grid access and permitting procedures.
“In parallel, a comprehensive industrial strategy for solar and renewables will be key to ensure a strong European renewable energy industry that will benefit from this growth and support manufacturing companies to scale up their facilities.”
Spanish solar trade group Unión Española Fotovoltaica (UNEF) said: “The photovoltaic sector is disappointed by the lack of ambition and coherence of most EU countries to combat the climate emergency. In our opinion, it is of fundamental importance to increase the ambition in setting the European targets for CO2 reduction by 2030 from the current 40% to 50% or, if possible, to 55%. This is a measure in line with the Paris Agreement and necessary and consistent in order to achieve the objective of climate neutrality by 2050.
“In this way, moreover, the European Union would set a good example at international level, encouraging the other countries to take action along the same lines. As Spain has demonstrated in the preparation of its PNIEC [Plan Nacional Integrado de Energía y Clima climate policy package], ambition is required to tackle the climate crisis we are experiencing. Thanks to its high level of economic competitiveness, in addition, photovoltaic technology is prepared to assume a leading role in this necessary energy transition towards a 100% sustainable model.”
French renewables lobby the Syndicat des énergies renouvelables (SER) said: “We are, of course, in favor of raising the ambitions in terms of GHG [greenhouse gas] reduction by 2030 from 40% to ‘50-55%’ within the framework of this climate law. Moreover, [French president] Emmanuel Macron recalled France’s ambition in the framework of the discussions on the Green Deal and its willingness to raise the level of requirements.
“In France, this increase in targets should help to boost the photovoltaic sector and all electrical renewable energies. This dynamism of electrical renewable energies should enable France to continue its role as a major producer and exporter on the European electricity grid. This being the case, the finalization of this law is one year away and the objective of -50% or -55% is not set in stone. Once the bill has been finalized, the challenge will then be to define the operational means to achieve it, in particular the renewable energies directive, with guidelines and support mechanisms adapted to the specificities of each country to develop a varied and complementary energy mix between energies.
“Finally, we will soon have to decide what price we will put on carbon in the future in order to move towards carbon neutrality.”
Finland, which has set itself much stricter decarbonization targets than the EU, is among the 12 member states to have signed an open letter to the commission and the council calling for more stringent, science-led 2030 targets.
Tapio Tuomi, executive director of Finnish clean energy association Lähienergia, said: “I’m very proud of being a part of [the] EU. The commission initiative to add the goal ‘climate-neutral EU by 2050’ into the legislation, in combination with the European Green Deal Investment Plan and Just Transition Mechanism, gives a very strong message that the goal will be met. Still, [the] year 2050 is quite far [off] and the goal is very tough to reach, so I was expecting the 2030 goals to be updated at the same time. That would have made the initiative more credible.”
Ska Keller, co-president of the Greens and European Free Alliance grouping in the European Parliament, said: “The climate law presented … by the European Commission is disappointing. Above all, it is disappointing that the European Commission has not presented a target for the year 2030 and is failing to play its role as a leader in the international climate negotiations. If the European Commission waits until September to present climate targets for 2030, we will not be able to pull others along and it will be far too late for Glasgow.”
The European United Left and Nordic Green Left group of MEPs said the proposed law betrayed the bloc’s younger generations.
“While humanity races against time to save our planet, the European Commission proposes a climate law that postpones setting a binding trajectory towards carbon neutrality and fails to address the root causes of climate chaos, such as fossil fuel subsidies and free trade,” said grouping co-president Manon Aubry. “How do EU officials, keen on photo ops, dare to look Greta Thunberg and other youth in the eye this week, while proposing a climate law that betrays their call for action?”
The Eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) grouping, on the other hand, appeared wary of the possibility the draft legislation holds out of tightening post-2030 carbon emission requirements on member states.
“We believe that any proposal to increase the EU’s emission reduction targets must be based on an impact assessment to evaluate the associated socio-economic risks, and be aligned with the Paris Agreement’s cycle of planning, implementing and reviewing progress on parties [to that treaty’s’] NDCs [nationally determined contributions to battling climate change],” said ECR and Brothers of Italy fascist party member Pietro Fiocchi. “The ECR Group will therefore intensely analyze and challenge the climate law proposal; the long-term credibility and value of pragmatic, evidence-based, European policymaking depends on it.”
The next step
The ball is now in the European Parliament’s court, as Jytte Guteland, environment committee coordinator and climate law rapporteur of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats pointed out.
“The climate law is a chance for Europe to take a historic step in our development and transition to becoming a climate-neutral continent,” she said. “But it will only become what we make of it and now it is important that the European Parliament strengthens the commission’s proposal. In order to be in line with the Paris Agreement, the EU must commit to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 and this target needs to be enshrined in the climate law. This is crucial for our climate efforts but also to give markets a clear and stable trajectory for reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.”
Liberal, pro-European grouping Renew Europe said the proposed climate law was a landmark decision and welcomed the increase of the 2030 reduction target from 40% to 55%. The caucus said it believes more “pivotal elements” need to be implemented to ensure a net-zero-carbon economy by 2050.
Pascal Canfin MEP, chair of the grouping’s environment committee, said: “The climate law is the engine behind the Green Deal, because everything else will follow on from it. It is a good starting point but in order to respond to scientific facts, our commitments and the demands of European citizens, we need to move faster and go further. We have to go faster to be ready with a [three-way] agreement before the COP26 [conference] and we must go further by setting an intermediate target in 2030 for a 55% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and by demanding that all future EU legislation be brought into line with climate neutrality.”