Divisions emerge ahead of EU Climate Law and Just Transition bill reading

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Europe’s parliamentary committee on environment, public health and food safety (ENVI) has criticized the emissions reduction target proposed in the European Commission’s Climate Law policy and called for a 60% reduction from 1990 levels by 2030.

With the parliamentary reading of the policy set for the week of October 5-8, the raised ambition – from the 50-55% set in the commission’s draft – could be feasible as green, socialist and liberal factions in the chamber routinely call for 60-65% emissions reduction during that time and the center-right, pro-EU European People’s Party (EPP) has agreed to back a 50% figure.

The ENVI committee also wants to set a 2040 benchmark for emissions reduction, to maintain the pace of progress, and have suggested an 80-85% decline on 1990 levels. In addition, the committee members called for a ‘Union Carbon Budget’ “which sets out the remaining quantity of greenhouse gas emissions in total for the union economy and broken down by each economic sector, that could be emitted without putting at risk the union’s commitments under the Paris agreement,” the draft report stated.

“The adoption of the report sends a clear message to the European Commission and the EU Council [of leaders] in light of the upcoming negotiations: we expect all member states to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 at the latest and we need strong interim targets in 2030 and 2040 for the EU as well to achieve this,” said parliament rapporteur Jytte Guteland, of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament (S&D). “I’m also satisfied with the inclusion of a greenhouse gas budget, which sets out the total remaining quantity of greenhouse gas emissions as CO2 equivalent that could be emitted until 2050 at the latest, without putting at risk the Union’s commitments under the Paris agreement.”

Will the commission listen?

The ENVI committee upped the ante just a few days ahead of commission president Ursula von der Leyen’s first State of the Union address to the parliament, tomorrow. A leaked document outlining a revised version of “the 2030 Climate target plan” demonstrated the Brussels executive is aware of the need for parliamentary support and had increased the emissions reduction target by 5%, to 55%.

The new 2030 target foresees around 30% of the EU budget being used for climate-relevant spending, in line with the bloc’s Paris agreement objective. The chief commissioners appear ready to increase annual energy generation investment for the decade ahead by around 1.7% of GDP, on average. According to the leaked plan, that translates into an increase of €350 billion per year.

In terms of costs and emissions reduction ambitions, the plan points to rapid penetration of renewables, doubling down from 32% of the generation mix being renewable by 2030, to 65%. The contribution clean energy could make to decarbonizing other sectors was also laid out in the leaked document, in the shape of an impact assessment which stated renewables could provide around 40% of space heating and cooling power by 2040.

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Tomorrow will also see the parliament vote on the Commission’s proposed €40 billion Just Transition Fund (JTF). The cash would be allocated to help regions economically dependent on a fossil fuel economy – such as coal mining areas – transition towards a decarbonized system. A whopping 108 European regions could qualify for a slice of that cake.

Though council and commission agreed the JTF should not finance nuclear or fossil fuel projects, including natural gas, the European Parliament’s committee on regional affairs has opted to include gas in its reading of the proposal. In July it was said such a position would not have a majority in parliament.

Put up or sell-out

“We’ve heard a lot about the European Parliament’s determination to tackle the climate crisis but this is where the rubber really hits the road,” said Mahi Sideridou, managing director at the Europe Beyond Coal network of civil societies. “If the parliament allows the Just Transition Fund to be captured by fossil fuel interests, how can it deliver on the Green Deal? MEPs need to exclude all fossil fuels from the fund and mandate that only countries that commit to a pre-2030 coal phase-out can access it.”

The non-profit network said tomorrow’s vote should eliminate the last possibility of the fossil fuel industry undermining one of the European Green Deal’s critical instruments. The fault line on the issue is a geographical one with some eastern members of the bloc consistently dragging their heels on environmental legislation.

“Every bit of fossil gas infrastructure built today creates a high-carbon lock-in and will inevitably have to be abandoned to meet carbon budgets,” said Alexandru Mustață, national campaigner at the Romania branch of central and eastern European environmental NGO Bankwatch. “It’s a fool’s errand that would deny vulnerable communities the chance to leap forward, and cause the Just Transition Fund to deepen the very structural challenges it was intended to ease. The EU parliament has a choice: back up last year’s climate emergency declaration with a statement of intent or sell-out vulnerable communities to the fossil gas lobby.”

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