The EU on Wednesday (20 July) unveiled national targets for cutting greenhouse gases by 2030, placing the burden on richer northern countries including exit-bound Britain to help meet the bloc’s UN goal.
The plans for the 28 EU member states put the onus on Sweden, Luxembourg, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Britain, France and Austria as the bloc seeks to meet its commitment to cut emissions by 40% over 1990 levels.
The Effort Sharing Regulation covers contributions from sectors such as transport and agriculture, which are not covered by the EU’s Emissions Trading System.
The countries must now approve the plans by the European Commission, although it is unclear how Britain will react following its shock 23 June referendum vote to leave the EU.
The EU set the 2030 target as its overall pledge in the UN’s climate agreement, reached in Paris last December.
Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete said in a statement this was “ambitious” but that he was “convinced we can achieve through the collective efforts of all member states.”
“The national binding targets we are proposing are fair, flexible and realistic,” Cañete said.
“They set the right incentives to unleash investments in sectors like transport, agriculture, buildings and waste management.”
EU member states will be able to bank annual emissions savings from sectors such as agriculture and transport, and use them in later years to meet their climate targets, under EU legislation set to be put forward on Wednesday (20 July).
Under the targets, which are based on economic growth, Sweden and tiny Luxembourg must cut emissions by 40% over 2005 levels, while Finland and Denmark must cut emissions by 39% and powerhouse Germany by 38%.
Britain and France are asked to cut emissions by 37% while Netherlands and Austria should cut by 36%, according to the numbers released by the European Commission, the EU executive.
Britain had to be included for legal reasons as it will remain a member of the EU for at least two years after it officially triggers its divorce from the bloc, sources said — adding that the adoption of the targets will be a lengthy process in any case.
In contrast, Bulgaria, the poorest state in the bloc, was given an emissions reductions target of 0%, while Romania, Latvia, Croatia, Poland, Hungary and Lithuania are all set below 10%.
But the system allows for flexibility. Member states can reduce emissions jointly across a range of sectors and over time.
The proposal aims to set binding objectives for member states from 2021 until 2030. The proposals – which also allow for member states to buy and sell emissions allocations – will be debated by the member states and the European Parliament.
The non-government organisation World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said the proposals fall short of the ambitions Brussels set at the Paris summit.
“Not only is the Commission astoundingly out-of-synch with international climate commitments, but it has also included ‘loopholes’ in this proposal which will allow countries to cheat their way out of real climate action,” said Imke Luebbeke, head of climate and energy at the WWF European Policy.
The European Commission promised sweeping changes to its regulation of car and truck pollution in an effort to slash carbon emission levels by 2030.
“The proposal aims to put into effect a pledge that is out of line with the Paris Agreement,” said Wendel Trio, director of Climate Action Network Europe. “Each EU country will have to scale up its efforts to keep the Paris Agreement goals within reach and avoid runaway climate change. For each EU country an increase of efforts would open up opportunities for green growth, better public transport, cleaner air and water, less energy poverty and more jobs.
“The proposal lacks a crucial element that would allow to automatically strengthen inadequate national targets when the overall EU commitment is revised. After all the rhetoric on the need to increase ambition through regular reviews that the EU pushed for in Paris, failing to include a review mechanism in our own laws sends a wrong signal abroad.”
Brook Riley, climate justice and energy campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe said, “The EU’s climate plan promises far from Europe’s fair share in the fight against climate change – and everyone knows it. Words won’t fool melting glaciers, and only action can save those impacted by climate change. European and national policymakers need to stop presenting climate policy as a cost and start underlining its huge environmental and economic benefits.”
The Effort Sharing Regulation aims to reduce emissions from sectors such as transport, buildings and farming, which are major contributors to global warming.
It applies to those non-ETS sectors not covered by the EU's Emissions Trading System.
The regulation will break down an EU-wide target of a 30% greenhouse gas reduction compared to 2005 levels by 2030 for the 28 member states, which must agree an identical text with MEPs before it can become law.
The cuts are essential if the EU is to hit its 2030 target of a 40% reduction, compared to 1990 levels, in greenhouse gas emissions.
This will be crucial if the bloc is to keep to the climate commitments it made at the UN Climate Change Conference.