EU set to approve plan for net-zero emissions by 2050

viernes, 21 de junio de 2019 | Trading

Though a plan to decarbonize the European Union looked to be in trouble last week, developments in recent days combined with political paralysis in choosing the EU’s top jobs means EU governments may take a surprise decision to endorse a 'net-zero emissions by 2050' goal at a summit in Brussels on Thursday.

The original hope was to adopt the target at this week's European Council summit of 28 national leaders, given that it is the last chance to adopt the goal before a global UN climate summit taking place in New York in September. The idea is that an ambitious EU target will motivate other governments to follow suit in New York.

But in March it became clear that a consensus adoption by all 28 EU governments was under threat, as Poland led a bloc of Eastern European countries in objecting. They do not want the plan to mention a specific due date, preferring a more vague goal. Such climate action scepticism is par for the course from Warsaw, but earlier this year the country had the support of Germany. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel clashed over the plan at the March European Council summit, and only eight EU countries were willing to come out in support of it.

But in May Merkel changed course and suggested she could back the plan, a position that was confirmed last week. Italy, which was previously resisting, has now also come out in favour of the plan. The British government had not taken a position in favor of the EU's 2050 goal but last week announced it would unilaterally set its own net-zero 2050 goal nationally, joining several other EU countries including Sweden and Finland that have already done so (Finland has set a date of 2035). The U.K. will assumedly not block the EU's adoption of the same target.

Majority support

According to EU sources, 18 of the 28 countries now back the plan, which was put forward by the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch which proposes legislation, last year. It would reduce emissions to “net zero”, which means that emissions would be reduced to almost nothing, with any small amount remaining made up for by planting forests to soak up carbon from the atmosphere, or other abatement measures.

The change in fortunes for the proposal over the last week came after a leaked draft of prepared summit statement said EU leaders would not take a decision until 2019, with the intention of finalising a deal “in early 2020”. This prompted an angry response from both climate campaigners and diplomats, pointing out that the next planned summit isn’t until October, and that would be too late to influence the global commitments set to be discussed in New York in September. Such a delay would be doubly frustrating, they said, when most people involved in the discussions believe it will be adopted eventually.

One of those diplomats heaping pressure on the EU was U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, who sent a letter last week urging adoption at the June summit. “An announcement by the EU committing to enhance its nationally determined contributions, while aiming at a target of 55% reduction in emissions, would send a powerful message of leadership and commitment,” he wrote. “It is my hope to use this summit to create a process of increased ambition by focusing on actions that have the ability to transform our societies”.

In the end, it may be developments that have nothing to do with climate change that make it possible for a decision this week. The June summit was meant to be devoted to choosing the next European Commission president, along with the EU’s other top jobs. But that process has been delayed by the inability to form a governing majority in the European Parliament after last month’s elections. If EU leaders decide to put off the top jobs decision this week, that will leave them more time to discuss the 2050 target.

“It’s clear this is a decision that has to come after some frank and honest discussions by heads of governments, it can’t be agreed by ministers or [civil servants],” said one EU source.

Last holdouts

But EU sources said the recent conversions of Italy and Germany, plus recent wavering by Poland’s Eastern allies, signal that the plan will be adopted eventually, even if it doesn’t happen until early 2020. But Poland and its allies need to be given concessions.

Whether the target gets adopted in time to influence the New York summit will depend on whether EU leaders have the time and space to agree on those concessions on Thursday. Such concessions could include more EU funding for Eastern European regions that are economically dependent on mining coal.

According to EU sources, several of Poland’s usual allies are peeling off in the face of pressure from the UN and the public. Hungary may be close to outright backing the 2050 target, as well as Slovakia, Romania and Croatia. That would leave Poland, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic as opponents that still need to be convinced on Thursday.

If the EU presidency discussions are postponed, that will leave much time for the remaining leaders to be convinced. “EU leaders cannot neglect the UN Secretary General's call for more action to tackle the climate emergency,” said Wendel Trio, director of the NGO Climate Action Network. “Delaying this decision would leave the EU empty-handed at the September Climate Action Summit and be a major blow to the EU's international reputation as a climate leader.”

Source: Forbes