EU’s next top climate model under scrutiny

Frans Timmermans at the European Commission in Brussels, 5 December 2019. [Photo: EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ]

The European Commission insisted on Wednesday (4 March) that complex climate number-crunching has to be finished before it can update an emissions-busting target for 2030. That impact assessment could make or break the EU’s green agenda.

Criticism came thick and fast yesterday when it was confirmed that the Commission’s new Climate Law would not include an updated overall benchmark for 2030 – currently set at 40% emissions cuts.

The EU executive instead pledged to publish by September its reviewed scenario into whether 50-55% cuts are possible, in order for Brussels to try and stick to its Paris Agreement commitments.

But under the current timeline, a final agreement would not be possible before an EU-China summit set for the same month and it would be an uphill struggle to sign and seal an update ahead of November’s COP26 meeting in Glasgow.

Both events are seen as crucial to Europe’s quest to get other large emitters to adopt ambitious green policies and curb greenhouse gas emissions.

EU debuts climate law 'compass', Greta dismisses it as 'surrender'

The European Commission officially unveiled its Climate Law on Wednesday (4 March), aimed at making the EU carbon neutral by 2050. But Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg criticised the plan as “surrender”.

At the launch of the Climate Law, the EU’s Green Deal chief Frans Timmermans defended the September deadline, explaining that “our work has started and is ongoing. We want to find the best landing zone and that will require huge efforts.”

He added that officials at the climate directorate had advised that “they need until the end of the summer for it to be thorough and correct, I have to respect that.”

“I choose this over the possibly more politically attractive option of putting it in immediately. I would’ve loved to have been able to do that, or even before the summer,” Timmermans said, citing a letter sent to him by 12 member states that called for a June deadline instead.

The Dutchman also suggested that if a half-baked impact assessment were to be submitted ahead of schedule, the EU would paradoxically end up wasting more time as there “would be an endless discussion over it”. 

Countries like the Czech Republic and Hungary have insisted that they will not consider a 2030 increase without a thorough assessment. The Council needs to approve any changes but can do so through qualified majority voting.

EU leaders claim victory on 2050 climate goal, despite Polish snub

EU leaders claimed to have sealed a deal on an ambitious climate plan for 2050 early Friday morning (13 December) but Poland still maintained its objections and refused to endorse the climate-neutral target.

No half-assessing

According to the Climate Law, the ongoing impact assessment will take into account national energy and climate plans (NECPs), which spell out how countries are going to make policy over the next ten years.

But as of 4 March, only 21 member states had submitted their NECPs to the Commission. Three of the latecomers – France, Luxembourg and Spain – were among the 12 that signed the letter to Timmermans.

“We’re still waiting for some of those member states to do their own homework, so I could respond with ‘do your own homework and your plea will be slightly more credible’,” the climate chief told EURACTIV when asked if their demand was hypocritical.

Spanish authorities are still in the midst of an environmental assessment but the NECP will be ready to submit once it is completed. The government hopes to turn it in within the next few weeks.

Luxembourg’s government has approved its plan and is now waiting for a public consultation to wrap up. The Grand Duchy aims to send it to the Commission in April or May, at the latest. It is still unclear when France will be ready to submit.

Luxembourg to deploy carbon tax from 2021

Luxembourg will implement a levy of €20 per tonne of carbon from 2021, as part of its efforts to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by the end of the next decade.

The Commission’s impact assessment will reportedly try to demonstrate that a 55% cut in emissions will cost the same or close to 40%, by updating investment costs like wind turbine and building renovation prices.

Models could also be produced to show higher or lower emission cuts – 50% or 60% – but that is probably a political decision that climate officials will not make without the go-ahead from Timmermans himself.

The economic impacts of climate change, including flood damage and forest fires, are also set to feature in the modelling, by using data from the EU’s Joint Research Centre. It is unclear how much prominence will be given to those costs though.

Leveraging those figures could be crucial in buying the support of the EU’s Central and Eastern member states, for whom climate-caused damages – particularly flooding and drought – are a significant concern.

Another tricky area will be showing how overall emissions cuts can actually be achieved. EURACTIV understands that some member states, all from Western Europe, are keen to do as much with the current rules as possible.

But changes to existing legislation are on the horizon. Timmermans confirmed that the Commission’s next job will be to assess by June 2021 whether the renewables and energy efficiency directives, and more, need to be tweaked.

“We will make those proposals under the existing legislative rules,” he added, rather than the proposed delegated acts pathway for emissions cuts after 2030, which would strip member states and MEPs of their power to amend the Commission’s suggestions.

EU Green Deal to tune up car CO2 rules 

The European Commission will revise car CO2 standards and move towards zero-emission vehicles in the 2030s, according to the EU’s new Green Deal, unveiled on Wednesday (11 December). Every other mode of transport can expect attention over the next five years too.

Mid-century changes

Although Timmermans extolled the virtues of an impact assessment for 2030, the Climate Law states that such an in-depth review will not be needed for the 2050 target, because work done in 2018 is still current enough.

Asked if that was sending mixed messages to national governments, the climate chief replied that the middle of the century is simply too far away for decent number-crunching to be done at this time.

“It’s relatively feasible to be good on impact assessment for 2030 but if you move beyond that, 30 years from now, you have to use the best available science to be able to say exactly what is necessary,” he explained.

Timmermans did not rule out a thorough review if targets needed to be changed but suggested that if “we put 55% into legislation, the trajectory from there to net-zero is pretty straightforward. You don’t have much room to manoeuvre.”

While the Commission experts run the numbers, attention might turn to how the European Parliament wants to approach the 2030 target debate.

Although MEPs have already agreed that 55% cuts are the way forward, the EU assembly normally asks for higher ambition than what the Commission proposes. If the impact assessment shows 55% is the option, pressure could build on the Parliament to push for more.

MEPs will have to square potential demands for a higher target – the Greens want more than 60% – with COP-necessitated haste.

But Timmermans was optimistic at the close of his Climate Law presentation: “In September, I think you will find that we will be prepared for COP.”

EU Parliament votes for 55% emissions cuts by 2030

Members of the European Parliament voted in favour of increasing the EU’s 2030 emission cuts target to 55% and a net-zero mid-century target on Thursday (14 March), bringing an end to weeks of infighting.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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