The EU Parliament has decided that the EU’s carbon emissions are to be reduced by 60 percent by 2030. But what does it mean? Here are five keys to understand the target.
1. The reduction is in the details. The emissions reduction is from the base year of 1990, and it is a stepping stone towards reaching climate neutrality by 2050. It has previously been suggested that the EU as a whole need to meet the targets, but not individual countries. If some countries meet their target early – for instance Finland which is to become carbon neutral by 2035 – others could reach it later or not at all. But the Parliament decided that each member country is to meet the target individually.
The Parliament’s decision excludes large offsets with emissions reductions taking place outside of the EU, and it doesn’t allow for large scale sinks to be included in the target. It also proposes creating a European climate change council of scientists, which would scrutinize EU climate policies and targets, much in line with the British Climate Act or the Swedish or Danish climate laws. The Parliament also asks the European Commission to develop a proposal for a 2040 climate target. At a later, separate stage, the EU Parliament may also propose a specific Climate Law, making the emissions reduction “more” binding – I am currently unconvinced that this would matter very much since the climate target will in itself be binding.
2. This means action. Reaching target means a huge increase in the pace of emissions reductions, from 1990 to now, we have reduced emissions by 25 percent, meaning that more than half of the work remains with only a quarter of the time. A lot of what was very expensive back in 1990 makes business sense now, making the challenge less daunting. According to the Commission, a 70 percent reduction in the use of coal is needed, though other estimates show that Germany and Poland would have to phase out coal from their energy mix in ten years to reach the target – much faster than their current national targets. The building and construction sector’s move towards climate neutrality will be given momentum, with added interest in CCS linked to cement and with wood as construction material. Expect increased incentives for electric vehicles of all sizes, from moped to truck, bus, ship and plane, combined with dis-incentives for fossil fuel powered versions, bonus-malus style – since vehicles are used for so long, it is important to get the change early on in order to meet the targets.
3. A divided Parliament – but fairly likeminded. The voting numbers were 352 votes to 326, with 18 abstentions (preliminary), which gives a picture of a very narrow win. But most of those voting no wanted a 55 percent target rather than 60, which obviously also is a large increase in ambitions compared to the current 40 percent target that is to be replaced. While both sides argue that the last 5 percent are of tremendous importance – those for saying it is needed for European leadership, those against say it will hurt the economy, at least as long as other regions aren’t joining.
4. The Green Deal is the big thing. The climate target has been negotiated separately, but it is really only a part of the EU:s Green Deal, that the Commission has labeled EU:s “Man on the Moon moment” – our chance to make a difference for the better, for the entire planet. The Green Deal strongly emphasizes that the targets are to be reached in a way that makes the EU more competitive, includes social dimensions and respects the different starting points between EU countries – it is to be a just transition.
5. It’s not yet decided. The Parliament’s decision is in fact its negotiating position towards the EU Council of Ministers representing the EU’s 27 member states. Their joint position is to be negotiated over the coming week, and a final decision likely to be taken in December, under the current German presidency.
Germany will likely aim for unanimity but could, if it feels it is needed, decide to go for a qualified majority vote. This would most likely be the case if only one country is against what others want – most likely Poland which has until now been critical of raising the 40 percent emissions reduction target. Finding a broad agreement most likely means going back to the 55 percent which the Commission previously launched – the difference is bigger than it seems since that included carbon sinks. This is also the position of EPP, which includes German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
Stay tuned, return here to get the update once the agreement has – hopefully – been made. And meanwhile: Do your part. Climate targets are to be reached together, as part of your business plan, family commitment, municipality target or national pledge. Together we can, together we will.