Vulcan Insight

European Parliament defies Commission to raise emissions reduction ambition

9 October 2020

On Wednesday, the European Parliament voted to raise the EU’s CO2 emissions reduction targets from the original 40% to 60% by 2030, as part of a EU Climate Law package, a series of laws to help Europe achieve the climate targets set out in the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement – which aims to limit global warming to well below 2°C.

Despite the opposition from conservative (EPP) and right-wing groups (ECR and ID), the Parliament successfully adopted its position, led by the Swedish Labour (S&D) MEP Jytte Guteland, on the EU Climate Law, which was presented by the Commission in March 2020. The proposed bill would make it a legal requirement for the EU to become climate-neutral by 2050, while providing European citizens and businesses with the legal certainty and predictability they need to plan for the transformation.

Much to the dismay of the Commission Vice President for the Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, the MEPs made clear that the 55% target set out under the Commission’s original proposal would not be enough to meet the Paris climate goals. While Timmermans maintained that the 60% target was unrealistic, the Parliament called on the EU and the member states to step up their efforts to become individually climate-neutral by 2050.

The EPP group, which counts German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen as members, have also remained unimpressed by the Parliament’s revision. The group warned against the risks for Europe’s competitiveness of raising targets when no other large economy is taking equivalent action. Striking a different tone, Labour, Liberal and Greens groups lauded the result, speaking of “a huge success for the climate” as the law would lay the foundations for climate protection for the next 30 years.

But the Parliament’s stance doesn’t stop at the short-term goal to make the continent climate neutral by 2050: it also aims to build a forward-looking framework for Europe to achieve the so called “negative emissions” as of 2051. This ambitious target has gained huge traction in the past months, referring to a potential future obligation for companies and other stakeholders to turn the necessary task of reducing emissions into a search for scalable solutions to mop them up.

The new target still needs to be approved by a majority vote of member states, before entering the inter-institutional negotiations. So far, it appears that countries are split among those in favour of the Commission’s proposal for a 55% target and those in favour of the Parliament’s more ambitious 60%. Crucially, a bloc of Eastern European countries – led by Poland – is opposing the increase of the existing 40% target, criticising the Parliament’s call to oblige member states to become individually climate neutral by 2050. Governments representatives are set to discuss the issues at a summit in Brussels next week, where prolonged discussions are expected to take place. The vote on the matter is scheduled for December.  

In concrete terms, the vote on the Climate Law package sends a strong signal to the Council that green funding needs to be prioritised in the ongoing negotiations on the EU budget for 2021-2027.

But the EU Climate Law is much more than just a piece of legislation: it’s Europe’s opportunity to offer a new prosperity to future generations by reversing course to build a healthy planet. It’s an opportunity that policymakers can’t afford to waste.