Greens frustrated with slow pace of talks on European climate law

Michael Bloss, Green MEP, speaking at the Parliament Plenary session on Climate Law [Laurie DIEFFEMBACQ / EP]

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.

Bloss is part of a European Parliament delegation seeking to broker a deal on the climate law in talks with the European Commission and representatives of the EU’s 27 member states in the EU Council of Ministers.

While EU heads of states painfully agreed to back a 55% emissions reduction goal at their December summit, the European Parliament, which has an equal say on the matter, has pushed for a more ambitious 60% objective.

Both sides now have to agree on an identical text before the 2030 objective can be incorporated into the climate law and become a legally binding obligation on the European Union and its member states.

“The Council is really blocking any kind of conversation, which is not really helpful, because we need to be very fast finalising this,” Bloss said at a webinar on Tuesday (2 February).

The EU’s climate target for 2030 is “the elephant in the room” in the discussion, Bloss said, expressing frustration at the Council’s refusal to open the debate on the proposal.

The European Commission tabled the climate law in March last year but left out a crucial proposal on the bloc’s 2030 target until September, saying it needed more time to analyse the economic and social impact of raising the bloc’s climate goal.

The EU executive eventually tabled its 2030 climate target plan in September as planned, arguing that cutting emissions by “at least 55%” before the end of the decade was “both economically feasible and beneficial for Europe”.

'We can do it!': EU chief announces 55% emissions reduction target for 2030

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced plans on Wednesday (16 September) to target a 55% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 as part of a broader European Green Deal programme aimed at reaching “climate neutrality” by mid-century.

Two-step approach

The Commission’s idea was to adopt a two-step approach: in a first step, the climate law would enshrine the EU’s climate neutrality target for 2050 into legislation and deal with governance issues. The law would then be amended in a second step to incorporate the bloc’s 2030 target.

However, it was never made clear whether the two processes were separate or not. “This is the beauty of the legislative vagueness on the issue,” says a parliamentary source involved in the negotiations.

And while Parliament negotiators are trying their best to improve the climate law and the 2030 target, the Council and the Commission have so far negotiated as a bloc, effectively locking the talks, the source said.

“The important, core issues of the climate law – the climate target for 2030, the climate council, the ban on fossil subsidies, negative emissions, access to justice or the greenhouse gas budget – are contested or unanswered by the Council,” Bloss said.

“This is highly disappointing,” he told EURACTIV, saying the Council seems anxious to keep the proposal as unchanged as possible. “This attitude does not fit the task we have in the climate crisis,” he added.

The Council, for its part, has called the recent discussions “very friendly and constructive,” saying the negotiations were still at early stage.

“At this stage, it was only to obtain clarifications from the European Parliament to facilitate further discussions at technical level in preparation for the next trilogue,” said a spokesperson for the Portuguese Presidency of the EU.

For instance, the Council has taken on board “many of the proposals” presented by Parliament in areas like climate adaptation, the spokesperson said.

The Presidency wants to wrap up the negotiations by April, ahead of the “Fit for 55” package of energy and climate laws that the Commission will table in June. When it took over the EU’s helm in January, Lisbon said it will approach the easier topics first and then move on to more contentious issues, like the 2030 target.

But environmentalists fear delaying discussion on the 2030 target will leave EU member states leverage to pressure the Parliament on other aspects of the climate law.

“Apparently the Portuguese presidency wants to keep [the extremely sensitive topics] to the end, but if they want to keep to their timeline and wrap it all up by April, for me, it is quite a bad strategy,” warned Harriet Mackaill-Hill from Climate Action Network Europe.

Deal on European climate law is ‘big priority’ for Portugal at EU helm

Negotiations on the European Climate Law – including the bloc’s proposed 55% greenhouse gas reduction target for 2030 – are expected to wrap up before the end of June as Portugal makes a climate agreement the “big priority” of its six-month EU presidency, which started on 1 January.

Miles to go

Still, negotiators made some progress on less controversial aspects of the climate law, like climate adaptation.

The Council has split the talks into four areas. The first, which includes adaptation, the review clause and public participation in climate policy, was discussed at this week’s meeting and is seen as close to being finalised.

The second, which requires further discussion, includes the Parliament’s suggestion to create an EU Climate Change Council (ECCC), similar to those already established in France and the UK, to provide scientific advice on whether EU laws are in line with the Paris Agreement and the bloc’s remaining carbon budget.

Some member states like France and Denmark are in favour of it, but the Commission and Council raised questions about funding the new body and warned that it risked duplicating the work of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

However, Bloss accused the Commission of confusing the debate by raising the IPCC issue.

“That was never the intention,” he said, noting that the Commission did not raise any concern when France established a Climate Council. “I hope we can agree that there is a need for robust recommendations from science,” he said.

The EU’s remaining carbon budget will also be discussed in this category, but it is unlikely that an agreement will be reached on sanctions for countries that exceed the limit, Mackaill-Hill said.

The third area includes topics like the phase out from fossil fuels and access to justice for NGOs and citizens allowing them to bring climate cases against governments for failing to meet their climate obligations. However, Mackaill-Hill said this is currently still a “no-go” because EU member states have not yet given the Portuguese presidency a mandate to negotiate on those issues.

Finally, the fourth category includes the most politically sensitive texts, like the 2030 target and the effort-sharing for the 2050 goal.

It is very unlikely that the Council will budge from the -55% target agreed in December after a long night of talks. However, some EU countries like Denmark are ready to consider separate targets for emissions and carbon “sinks”, which include removals from forestry and agriculture.

“There could also be an interesting compromise from the parliament side. It would be to ask to integrate international shipping and aviation into the target,” Mackaill-Hill added.

The next round of negotiations is expected in March, after several technical meetings, but there will need to be more agreement from EU countries on their positions.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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