Environment ministers from the 27 EU member states confirmed they would continue to push for a 55% net greenhouse gas reduction target by 2030 during a meeting of the environment council on Thursday (18 March), despite calls from Parliament to increase the EU’s ambition.
Negotiations are currently ongoing over the European climate law, which aims to enshrine the EU’s 2050 climate neutrality target into hard legislation.
The biggest hurdle standing in the way of a deal is the 2030 target, with the European Parliament voting last year in favour of a 60% reduction in emissions, up from the Council’s 55% target.
But this is a no-go for EU member states, which painfully agreed in December on the 2030 target after all-night session of excruciating talks.
“We know what the Council mandate is. That is the mandate that we will work with,” said João Pedro Matos Fernandes, the Portuguese minister for energy and environment who chaired the informal video conference of EU environment ministers.
“The Presidency will continue to defend the Council’s position on the politically most sensitive issues, namely the climate neutrality objective and the 2030 target in accordance with the strong mandate that we received and based on the valid arguments in support of that position,” he added.
The negotiations have been “very intense” and there has been some progress, including provisional agreements on several areas where there was already convergence, said Fernandes.
New scientific advisory body
Negotiations last Friday (12 March) covered “more controversial” topics, including the greenhouse gas budget and proposals to create a new scientific advisory body, on which Fernandes said the Council has made significant efforts to propose compromises.
“Although there is still work to be done to move the positions closer, we feel that discussion with the Parliament is going in the right direction,” Fernandes said, adding that it is time to bring it together into “a balanced overall compromise package”.
Also speaking at the council, the European Commission’s executive vice-president Frans Timmermans echoed the idea of rolling the climate law into a package, saying there are still “a number of politically sensitive issues where the positions of the Council and the Parliament are still very far from each other”.
“It will be difficult, if not impossible, to discuss these issues in isolation,” Timmermans said.
The hope is still to conclude the negotiations by April, partly to give the Commission time to align its June package of climate legislation with the 2030 target, but also to go to the US climate summit on 22 April with an agreement.
“I believe that we have to move the negotiations to the next level now and see how we can have a more holistic approach that looks at the entire package of the open issues, it is clear that now we need to close swiftly these negotiations in order to enable us all to focus on the upcoming legislative package,” said Timmermans.
“The European Parliament now, also has to make some concessions and withdraw its demands which are completely unacceptable for the Council,” said Richard Brabec, the Czech environment minister.
Brabec added that the goal of 2050 climate neutrality had to stay “at the EU level without introducing obligations for individual member states,” a position which is in line with the agreement reached by EU leaders in December 2019.
But Leonore Gewessler, the Austrian environment minister, seemed to contradict this, saying, “Austria is in favour of reaching climate neutrality at 2050, at member state level as well. We would welcome it if we could make concessions to the European Parliament.”
One of the other sticking points in the climate law negotiations is the creation of a scientific body, the European Climate Change Council (ECCC), to advise policymakers on the EU’s alignment with the UN climate goals.
While Spanish environment minister, Teresa Ribera, said the remit of the ECCC is part of the scope for compromise on the climate law, Adam Guibourgé-Czetwertyński from Poland countered by saying the new body would “undermine the role of existing European institutions such as the European Environment Agency”.
Climate adaptation strategy
Alongside the climate law, environment ministers also discussed the Commission’s climate adaptation strategy, tabled in February.
“Beyond the borders of Europe, we believe it is vital to showcase European leadership on adaptation, which is crucial for progress in the Paris agreement to watch at COP26,” said Ronald van Roeden, deputy permanent representative for the Netherlands.
Ministers also emphasised the benefit of sharing best practice between member states when it comes to climate adaptation.
“We urge countries to share insights and best practices as we are eager to learn from all of you. And the Netherlands stands ready to share our own expertise on adaptation action,” said van Roeden.
The Council is keen to quickly approve the strategy and its conclusions are expected to be adopted in its June meeting.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]