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.
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.”
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.