EU leaders signed off on an ambitious climate plan for 2050 early Friday morning (13 December) but it lacked the backing of Poland, which maintained its objections to the climate-neutral target for the time-being.
At a meeting in Brussels, EU heads of state and government failed to come to a unanimous decision at the third time of asking, after summits earlier in the year also failed to yield a consensus.
“The European Council endorses the objective of achieving a climate-neutral EU by 2050, in line with the objectives of the Paris Agreement,” the summit conclusions state.
But leaders had to accept that Poland refused to sign up to that objective.
“One member state, at this stage, cannot commit to implement this objective as far as it is concerned,” the conclusions add.
Yet, European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen both insisted that an agreement on climate-neutrality had been brokered.
“We have reached an agreement on climate change,” Michel told reporters confirming at the same time that “for one member state, it is necessary to take more time for them to implement this commitment”.
The issue will come back on the leaders’ agenda in June 2020, after the Commission unveils its Just Transition Mechanism in January and published its so-called Climate Law in March.
“It is acceptable for a country that has come a long way and has many coal-dependent regions, that it needs more time to go through the details. But it will not change the timeframe of the Commission,” von der Leyen insisted.
According to the European Green Deal announced earlier this week, the Climate Law will include a climate-neutrality target regardless and given that the issue is environment-based, member states will only have to reach a qualified majority to see it pass into law.
Finland’s new prime minister, Sanna Marin, said that “we reached a decision on a joint commitment”, adding that “I remain confident that by next summer all member states will have committed to the full implementation of the climate target”.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki lauded the “very good solution” and said that his country had “been exempted from the principle of applying climate neutrality policy. We will reach it at our own pace.”
Morawiecki added that Poland would be allocated a “fair share” of the Just Transition Mechanism, expected to leverage around €100 billion in financing, which suggests that an eventual agreement is indeed possible once the full details are revealed.
Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte also told reporters that a deal had been brokered but added that the Netherlands would not step up its own emission-reduction efforts to cover for Poland. “No, we are not going to do that. The Germans won’t do it either.”
The lack of full endorsement means that the Council came up short on commitments made at previous meetings, where leaders pledged to wrap up talks fully by the end of 2019, so that the EU would be able to submit its plan to the UN early in 2020.
Long-term strategies are required under the Paris Agreement and the EU had hoped to submit its effort as soon as possible in order to use it as leverage in talks with other large emitters.
An EU-China summit in September has been earmarked as a crucial milestone in the climate diplomacy calendar, as well as the November COP26 summit in Glasgow.
Delay until June also means that more work will be done in the meantime on the multi-annual financial framework (MFF), the bloc’s next seven year budget. Eastern member states had insisted that progress on the budget was needed before the climate goal could be adopted.
Sources at the summit said that an agreement on the MFF would not be concluded until the climate deal is finalised, confirming that an approved budget for 2021-2027 will not be possible until the second half of 2020 under the German Presidency.
EU diplomats from western countries had said ahead of the summit that it would be a mistake to link the climate plan to the outcome of the long-term budget talks, maintaining that the MFF negotiations are not a miracle solution to the climate-neutrality challenge.
Czechs and Hungarians on board
There was tangible progress at the summit though, as both the Czech Republic and Hungary signed up to the target, after suggesting before the meeting that they would continue to deploy their vetoes.
In the official conclusions, leaders agreed on “the need to ensure energy security and to respect the right of the member states to decide on their energy mix and to choose the most appropriate technologies”, a key ask of the two Central European countries.
Under pressure from the Czechs, Hungarians and French, the conclusions also say that “some member states have indicated that they use nuclear energy as part of their national energy mix”.
Hungary in particular had pushed for more explicit mention of atom-smashing and even additional funding but that faced strong resistance from Austria, Germany and Luxembourg, among others.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, who before the summit had claimed that Austrians “could not have their coffee without our [energy] imports”, also proclaimed victory, saying the inclusion of nuclear in the conclusions would mean “clean energy for Czechs for decades”.
Poland did try to change the terms of the climate-neutrality goal during the course of the evening, at one point reportedly suggesting that it would sign up if a specific 2070 deadline was created just for it.
That idea was given short-shrift by the other member states. EU sources told EURACTIV that the 2050 plan is “fundamentally a common EU goal” and that derogations would not be made on the date.
Certain member states are set to reach climate-neutrality after the mid-century benchmark but as the target is EU-wide and an average, more advanced countries like Finland and Sweden would allow others to overshoot by reaching it early.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon and Benjamin Fox]