Crunch time in the climate law negotiations

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As the climate law negotiations come into the final months, a balance must be found between swift decisions and making the legislation meaningful, says Wendel Trio [STEPHANIE LECOCQ / EPA-EFE]

The European Climate Law can be a much needed addition to the EU’s climate governance framework, if its potential is fully tapped. Now, as we are approaching the final stages of the trilogue, the Council and the Parliament need to find an agreement, including on some of the more controversial issues, argues Wendel Trio.

Wendel Trio is director of Climate Action Network Europe, a coalition of green NGOs.

Since the Climate Law was first proposed by the European Commission, the Parliament has been active in amending the proposal with several constructive and innovative elements whereas Member States have been more reserved.

It is now crunch time for the final months of the trilogues. A balance must be carefully struck between finalising negotiations swiftly in order to provide clarity for the “Fit for 55” package of legislative proposals set for June, while also not rushing through a decision that fails to live up to the potential of the Law as a robust governance tool.

One of the initial key objectives of the Climate Law is to enshrine the 2050 climate neutrality target into EU law. However, science keeps reminding us that what we do in the next decade will be decisive for tackling the climate crisis. Hence, while having a net-zero target is important, the level of ambition of the EU’s 2030 climate target, which also is part of the Climate Law debate, will define what kind of world we will live in.

In December 2020, EU leaders agreed to enhance the EU’s climate target. As this “at least -55% net emissions reduction target” is not in line with the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting the temperature rise to 1.5°C, the Climate Law must bring this target to a higher level.

The Parliament can do this by sticking to its 60% position, by taking out carbon removals from the target, and by including emissions from international aviation and shipping in the calculation of the target. International transport emissions were partially included in the previous at least -40% target for 2030, and there is no valid reason not to include them now.

In parallel, and especially with future target-setting in mind, the Climate Law constitutes a golden opportunity to establish a science-based decision making mechanism, by creating an independent scientific advisory body.

This body, proposed by the European Parliament, would gather cutting edge scientists from a variety of relevant disciplines, such as economists, climatologists, sociologists…, from across the Union, providing independent, expert and transparent advice to legislators, thereby contributing to the public debate and increasing accountability of our decision makers.

Objections to this new body have been raised. For example, it has been claimed, by some Member States, that it would risk appearing as competing with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), creating an opening for other countries to make their own interpretations of climate science itself.

This is a misunderstanding. The proposed scientific body (the European Climate Change Council) should not produce any science of its own on the state of our common climate. Nor would it monitor and report on greenhouse gas emissions in the EU and its Member States (which is the role of the European Environment Agency). Rather, it would provide expert policy advice for the EU, based on the best available climate science – it would be complementary to the IPCC by translating its findings to the EU context.

Similar advisory bodies already exist in several member states, for example Ireland, Denmark, Finland, France, Hungary and Spain, to the great benefit of those governments. Often, these are also institutionalised through national climate laws.

As long as it is kept truly independent, free of stakeholder interests, its creation at EU level would greatly strengthen the EU governance framework and offer accountability for decisions that will define the future of our lives, livelihoods and the economy. Member States should recognise this as something helpful and constructive towards achieving a Paris-compatible path to net zero for the EU.

It is vital that the Climate Law also creates mechanisms that ensure accountability to the law, as part of the provisions on public participation, so that its commitments are respected in practice.

The European Parliament proposes to add a provision in the Climate Law that would allow affected persons as well as non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to start a case before a national court where a Member State violates EU law.

For instance, a member state could decide to not have any public consultation or completely fail to consider the requirements of the Climate Law and the Governance Regulation when preparing its National Energy and Climate Plan or National Long Term Strategy. Then, NGOs and affected individuals should be able to appeal to the national courts.

The European Climate Law can play a crucial role for EU policy making on climate in the decades to come. Now, as we approach the decisive hour for the EU Climate Law, it’s necessary for the EU institutions to come together on a strong final text – and that these important negotiations are put in the spotlight of public debate.

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