Little progress was made in the fifth round of negotiations on the European Climate Law last Friday (26 March), despite growing time pressure to have the bill agreed by mid-April, according to people involved in the talks, which are being held behind closed doors.
Everything around the climate law was discussed, including the EU’s 2030 and 2050 climate targets, said Harriet Mackhaill-Hill from Climate Action Network Europe.
The three-way talks – so-called trilogues in EU jargon – are being held behind closed doors in an attempt to find an agreement between the Parliament and the Council of Ministers, the body representing the EU’s 27 member states. The European Commission, for its part, is meant to act as a mediator in the talks.
However, EU member states did not give the Council a new mandate to negotiate on their behalf, meaning it could not change its position.
“We achieved nothing. There is no deal on anything. There’s no progress. That’s really frustrating for me, because I expected that we [would] make some progress this time,” said Michael Bloss, a Green MEP from Germany, who is part of the European Parliament’s negotiating team, in a press conference after the trilogue on Friday evening.
Parliament negotiators had initially expected substantial progress to be made on proposals to introduce a greenhouse gas budget and establish a European Climate Change Council, an EU scientific advisory body whose role is to verify the bloc’s alignment with the Paris climate goals.
But the Council said it did not have a mandate to make concessions and bought time with technical questions, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.
“Nothing happened. It was basically the Parliament talking about all of their positions,” said Harriet Mackhaill-Hill from Climate Action Network Europe. “They’ve really been working hard on trying to find a compromise and the impression is that the Council just turned up and had nothing,” she said.
The lead negotiator from the Parliament, Jytte Guteland, was more positive, saying: “I think we had some progress on the middle-sized questions. Now we can focus on the big ones during the next, and hopefully last trilogue. It will all be about 2030 and 2050.”
Portugal, which holds the Council’s six-month rotating presidency, aims to reach an agreement on the climate law by the end of April. But with the Easter break approaching, it seems increasingly likely that this deadline will be missed.
It is “really putting at risk” the EU’s timeline, Bloss warned, referring to the European Commission’s June package of energy and climate laws, which will introduce new policies to reduce the bloc’s emissions by 55% at least before the end of the decade.
“Either there’s a deal that’s made and it will be ready for the 22nd April as the Council wants. However, if there is no move on the target, and the Parliament stand strong, it won’t be the last and in that case we’ll go over the 22nd,” said Mackhaill-Hill.
This would mean the EU would go to the US climate conference without a confirmed 2030 target.
2030 target stalemate
While the 2030 target was discussed, there is now a stalemate, with neither the Parliament nor the Council budging in the talks. The EU’s climate chief Frans Timmermans, too, is being “stubborn”, said a source familiar with the negotiations.
For Bloss, a key sticking point is the Commission’s insistence on a “net” target which also takes into account carbon removals from agriculture and forestry. The Parliament, for its part, wants a separate target for carbon removals, saying the “net” approach will encourage tree-planting initiatives as a substitute for emission reductions from industry.
“The Commission is very much insisting on their net approach, which is highly problematic,” said Bloss, who added that the “net” target contains lots of loopholes, causing issues in terms of carbon accounting.
Bloss’s comments are part of a broader criticism of the Commission not acting as an honest broker in the talks and standing by the hard-fought consensus reached among EU leaders at their December summit.
Suzana Carp, from think-tank Bellona Europe, says the “net’ target is not precise enough, and that half of EU countries do not support it.
“I’m pretty confident that Council will have to move, but also I know that there are quite a few member states who actually don’t support the net targets approach. They’re extremely worried about what it would mean at COP 26,” she told EURACTIV.
She pointed to a 2019 study which found the EU was on track for a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 if all its existing policies were implemented. Now, since the pandemic has slashed emissions, the EU should be more ambitious, she said.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]