EU Commission clashes with Parliament over ‘net’ 2030 climate target

Frans Timmermans virtually joined the environment committee to update them on progress on the Green Deal [Laurie DIEFFEMBACQ / EP]

Lawmakers have denounced a “loophole” in the European Commission’s proposed climate target for 2030 and pointed the finger at the EU executive for its hard negotiation style over the EU climate law.

MEPs from across the political spectrum turned up the heat on Frans Timmermans, the executive vice-president of the European Commission, during a heated exchange of views with the bloc’s climate chief on Thursday (4 March).

Lawmakers raised concerns about the Commission’s “net” greenhouse gas reduction target for 2030, which includes carbon removals from agriculture, land use and forestry – so-called “carbon sinks”.

Carbon sinks weren’t included in the EU’s previous climate objectives, something which MEPs said creates a loophole meaning the actual greenhouse gas reductions will be lower than the 55% advertised by the EU executive.

“I must say that we have serious doubts about the nature of the Commission’s proposed net target for 2030,” said Jytte Guteland, a Swedish MEP from the socialists and democrats who is the Parliament’s rapporteur on the 2030 proposal.

“The Commission’s own impact assessment makes clear that there is in fact no certainty how big this will be and what the reduction will be for 2030 with this net approach, so it could be under the ‘at least 55%’,” Guteland said.

The Swedish MEP criticised the current calculation of “carbon sinks”, saying the target failed to take into account forest fires and storms that could reduce the ability of trees to absorb CO2.

To address the issue, many MEPs suggested creating a separate target for sinks, in order to keep track of the EU’s natural carbon stock.

Timmermans defended the proposed net target, saying it is in line with methodologies applied at UN level. He referred to the Commission’s impact assessment, saying it shows that achieving a 55% net reduction in emissions by 2030 is in line with a 1.5°C pathway advocated by the  International Panel on Climate Change.

“We believe this to be a fair target also taking account of our historic responsibilities as the EU,” Timmermans said.

But MEPs cited the European Commission’s own estimates to argue that a net target would in fact mean emissions are only reduced by around 53% instead of 55%.

Others, meanwhile, have said that using 1990 as a baseline for calculating the EU’s 2030 objective is misleading because emissions rapidly decreased in the 1990s after the Soviet Union broke up. A 55% reduction compared to 1990 is in fact equivalent to a 42% reduction on 2018 levels, warned climate activist Greta Thunberg.

Commission under fire for including 'carbon sinks' into EU climate goals

The European Commission on Thursday (17 September) defended its plan to bring carbon removals from agriculture, land use and forestry into the EU’s updated climate target for 2030, saying this was in line with UNFCCC standards.

Climate law

MEPs also criticised the Commission’s approach to negotiations over the EU’s climate law, which seeks to make the bloc’s climate neutrality goal a legally-binding objective.

The Commission is supposed to act as an honest broker during three-way talks with the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers, but lawmakers argued that it is failing in this task.

Moreover, MEPs blamed the EU executive for ignoring the Parliament’s call for a 60% target in its cost-benefit analysis on the 2030 target.

The possibilities are there because the impact assessment does not include all the more ambitious scenarios like on transport and other sectoral policies, but the Commission has deliberately not explored these, said Green MEP, Bas Eickhout.

“We in the parliament agreed on 60% as our climate target as democratically elected representatives and you’re ignoring this when you are making your calculations,” said Michael Bloss, a German MEP from the Green party.

“We have been waiting for constructive proposals from the Council and Commission, but they have refused to acknowledge the need to compromise. This take it or leave it attitude must change if a deal on the climate law is to be achieved,” he said.

“I’m not ignoring your position,” Timmermans replied. “I just don’t agree with it,” he added, saying the Commission would do its best to find a compromise.

The issue of forests as an economic resource, a carbon sink and home for biodiversity was also the subject of intense discussions, with Timmermans defending a balanced approach on the matter.

The Commission will soon put forward a legislative proposal in response to the Parliament’s call for mandatory due diligence when it comes to EU consumption and deforestation, he said.

Greens frustrated with slow pace of talks on European climate law

European countries are delaying negotiations on the EU’s 2030 climate target, according to Michael Bloss, a Green MEP from Germany who briefed the press after the third round of talks on the European climate law.

ETS revision

One of the most highly anticipated pieces of legislation in the upcoming June package is the revision of the emissions trading scheme (ETS). The Commission is currently running an impact assessment on extending this to cover more sectors, possibly maritime and road transport as well as buildings.

However, road transport is already covered by CO2 emission standards and there are concerns that adding it to the ETS’ remit could have a direct impact on consumers, including an increase in fuel prices.

“While the S&D group welcomes the introduction of the maritime transport to the ETS, we cannot say the same for the road transport,” said Guteland. “While we currently do not have any major reduction targets for shipping, we actually already have in place decent CO2 standards for road transport,” she remarked.

Timmermans has said earlier that he was personally against including road transport in the ETS. But he declined to confirm what was being considered, saying only that the social aspect of the ETS reform will be looked at.

EU carbon market not the right policy for cars, says Timmermans

Road transport should not be top of the list when the European Union expands its carbon market into new sectors, the bloc’s climate policy chief said on Tuesday (8 September).

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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