Ministers attach ‘strict conditions’ to EU’s carbon safety reserve

Environmental groups warned that the Parliament and Commission will need to fight the Council's watered-down position. [Shutterstock]

A carbon “safety reserve” aimed at helping poorer EU member states cut emissions in the transport, building and agriculture sectors will be accessible only for countries that reach their 2030 greenhouse gas reduction targets early.

The so-called safety reserve for less wealthy member states was at the centre of discussions between the EU’s 28 environment ministers, who met in Luxembourg on Friday (13 October).

The 115 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent will be accessible only for EU countries which have already made use of other “flexibilities” available under the Effort Sharing Regulation, according to a statement by the EU Council of Ministers released after the meeting.

Environment ministers were expected to decide on a 2030 carbon budget for the transport, building and agriculture sectors which are currently not covered by the bloc’s emissions trading system (ETS), the EU’s main tool to fight global warming.

Emissions Trading System failures sour energy policy efforts

Doubts about the effectiveness of the European Union’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) resurfaced on Tuesday (19 September) at an energy conference in Estonia, as a low carbon price continues to stymie energy market efforts.

The main talking point ahead of the talks was the issue of when to align the starting point for emission reductions calculations. The Commission’s original proposal of using 2016-2018 values as a baseline has attracted criticism from environmental groups who claim that it will make little impact on climate change action.

In an attempt to address these concerns, Germany suggested using 2020 climate objectives as a reference point instead, even for those countries that have not yet met them.

But this plan was rejected in the Council’s final compromise. State Secretary at the German environment ministry Jochen Flasbarth said after the talks that Germany would push “to achieve more on the starting point”.

Climate Action Network Europe (CAN) Director Wendel Trio gave the Council’s final text short shrift, warning that “all the boast of Europe’s commitment to the Paris Agreement rings hollow. By putting forward such a weak proposal, EU governments turned their back on the Paris Agreement.”

Activists denounce EU’s ‘double-faced’ climate policy

Loopholes in a draft EU law aimed at curbing global warming emissions from transport, buildings and agriculture will result in a mere 23% cut by 2030 instead of the 30% originally foreseen, environmental activists have warned, denouncing a cynical ploy by EU member states to dodge their pledges made under the Paris Agreement.

NGO Transport and Environment warned that watering down the draft will increase emissions by 38 megatonnes of CO2 and called on MEPs and the Commission to fight their corner in trilateral talks that will now open with the EU Council and Parliament.

Estonia, which holds the six-month rotating presidency of the Council, said “the safety reserve can only be used in case the EU fulfils its 2030 target, thereby making sure the ambition of the EU climate policy is maintained.”

“Eligible member states will have to comply with strict conditions,” it added. “For instance, they will first have to have made use of the other flexibilities available under this regulation.”

After fierce lobbying, Latvia and Malta obtained a total of 2 million tonnes additional carbon allocations, due to their “exceptional circumstances”.

The Council’s so-called general approach will now be taken forward in trilateral negotiations with the European Parliament and Commission.

Positions

Carlos Calvo Ambel, analysis and climate manager at T&E, said: “What environment ministers agreed on today falls way short of the commitments of the Paris agreement. This regulation goes beyond climate. Today EU governments missed an opportunity to promote cleaner air, greater innovation, lower energy bills and more livable cities.”

Wendel Trio, director of CAN Europe, said "Rejecting the only proposal to ensure laggards will not be rewarded for failing to meet their binding targets for 2020 puts the EU’s ability to design credible climate policies in serious doubt.”

French ecology minister Nicolas Hulot welcomed the compromise reached in Council but acknowledged it was insufficient to meet overall climate objectives. "France is aware that the European Union has yet to do more because the objectives we have collectively adopted in Paris are not enough to put us in a position to keep the global warming below 2°C.

"We will work tirelessly to convince our partners that carbon neutrality must now be achieved by 2050, which can be a tremendous opportunity for Europe in terms of health, employment and industrial policies. Faced with a compromise that some might consider insufficient, we will demonstrate that ambition is the solution. "

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