The European Parliament gave the thumbs up on Thursday (24 June) to the EU’s landmark climate law, despite opposition from the Greens, who said the legislation did not go far enough to protect people and the environment against dangerous climate change.
The climate law will be the driving force behind Europe’s push for climate neutrality by mid-century and will set in stone the EU’s target to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.
It passed with 442 votes for, 203 against and 51 abstentions, with strong support from the centrist parties Renew Europe, the European People’s Party and the S&D.
However, the Greens said the law was not ambitious enough and voted against it, joining the likes of the far-right Identity and Democracy group (ID) and the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), who abstained. The Left also strongly opposed the legislation.
“I find it sad that, in this historic step for climate protection, the Greens stand shoulder to shoulder with the right and left and do not recognise the dramatic progress we are making here for climate policy,” said Peter Liese, shadow rapporteur for the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP).
The far-right ID and national ECR political groups sit on the opposite side of the political spectrum to the progressive, left-wing Greens. It is an unlikely alliance that has been seen occasionally, including on topics like the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project bringing Russian gas to Germany.
The Greens have argued that the lack of ambition in the law means it will not be enough to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. They argue that the European Commission’s cost-benefit analysis, which showed the law would be compatible with the Paris climate goals, was not calculated properly.
“We Greens will vote against this climate law, because it fails to keep the promise of the Paris Agreement. Colleagues, it pains me, it pains me because we failed. And it pains me because the next years are the most important ones to stop the climate crisis,” said the Green negotiator, Michael Bloss, in the debate before the vote.
But EU Green Deal chief, Frans Timmermans, defended the Commission’s analysis, adding, “I respect those that say it isn’t enough, that we should be doing more […] but I don’t understand how that can lead to a negative vote on the climate law.”
‘Irrational, foolish and absurd’ stance
Other parties in the European Parliament heavily criticised the Greens for opposing the climate law.
“The position of the Greens voting against this climate law is majorly irresponsible politically speaking. If we all did the same thing, this law would never go through and we would be looking at [a 40% emissions reduction by 2030],” said Pascal Canfin, chair of the environment committee and a member of the centrist Renew Europe group.
“We are all quite disappointed and also angry with the Greens,” said Liese.
In a statement before the vote, Liese said it would be “totally irrational, foolish and absurd if the Greens voted with the extreme right”.
In their home country of Germany, Liese’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and Bloss’ Green party are fighting for the top spot in federal elections scheduled for September. The Greens were initially seeing historically strong polling numbers, but these have faltered since May.
Thursday’s “fundamentalist” vote is a signal to the Germans that the Greens are not ready to take responsibility, Liese told EURACTIV.
Asked what impression the vote might give, Bloss told EURACTIV: “I am concerned that we are voting on a law that establishes the guiding targets for the implementation of the Green Deal and that is not in line with the Paris Agreement.”
“And I am concerned with the Council and especially the German government that blocked the attempts of the Parliament to raise the climate targets. It shows that the severity of the climate crisis is not understood by many governments. You can’t bargain with nature,” he added.
However, there is no better deal on the table and a vote against is a vote for less ambitious climate policy, according to Jytte Guteland, a Swedish MEP and the lead negotiator from the European Parliament on the climate law.
“The alternative is not a more ambitious law – those who vote against today, they vote in favour of the old climate policies. They vote against climate neutrality, they vote for a much lower target for 2030 and against the climate advisory board,” said Guteland of the S&D group.
She admitted that the negotiations had been difficult and tense and that it is no secret she wanted more, but added that Parliament had won ground on several key topics.
“Increased ambition for 2030, negative emissions after 2050, a new target in 2040, a greenhouse gas budget on the way and a climate advisory board are all important wins for the European Parliament. The new climate law strengthens the ambition of the EU climate targets,” said Guteland.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]