Wednesday 10/20/21

EU leaders agree to raise emission-cut targets from 40% to 55% by 2030

The climate goals turned out to be the most contentious issue in the face-to-face summit between the EU premiers.

The increase from the present 40% target was proposed in September, and immediately encountered resistance in some EU states, like coal-reliant Poland.

HANDOUT - 10 December 2020, Belgium, Brussels: Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin speaks to media as she arrives for the first day of a two days face-to-face European Council summit. Photo: Alexandros Michailidis/EU Council/dpa - ATTENTION: editorial use only and only if the credit mentioned above is referenced in full
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin speaking to media on Thursday after arriving in Brussels. Photo: Alexandros Michailidis/EU Council.

EU leaders have pledged to cut carbon emissions by at least 55% by the end of the decade compared to 1990 levels after a night of intense talks in Brussels that eventually won more fossil-fuel reliant eastern states concerned about transition costs.

"Europe is the leader in the fight against climate change," European Council President Charles Michel tweeted on Friday morning following the breakthrough. "We decided to cut our greenhouse gas emissions of at least 55% by 2030."

The deal struck by the 27 members of the bloc came after more than 10 hours of negotiations.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country holds the six-month rotating EU presidency, called the more ambitious goal "a very, very important result."

"It was worth staying up all night for that," Merkel added.

Finland: 'A milestone'

The increase from the present 40% reduction target was proposed by the European Commission in September, and immediately encountered resistance in some EU states, like coal-reliant Poland. Other countries like Finland backed the proposal.

The Finnish government said in a statement that the new objective "represents a milestone towards the EU’s previously set objective of carbon neutrality by 2050."

Finland has pushed for a more stringent EU climate target and welcomes the decision. In Finland’s view, it is important to for the EU to reach its new target of 55% above all through emissions reductions.

Finland also stresses the need for all EU Member States to participate in implementing the Union’s objective.

The EU will present its new commitment at the UN Climate Summit on Saturday 12 December.

Now, making it reality will require major overhauls in the energy and transport sectors as well as a huge push to renovate buildings.

Massive investments needed

Massive investments will be needed, and countries with bigger transition costs due to a higher reliance on fossil fuel have been calling for more detailed information on the financial help they will receive.

The face-to-face summit between the premiers started on Thursday afternoon, and sealed decisions on the EU's long-term budget and recovery fund, coronavirus coordination, and sanctions against Turkey. But the climate goals turned out to be the most contentious issue.

One of the main sticking points is how these targets should be set between the member states. Poland argued that emissions reductions should be relative to a country's gross domestic product per capita, essentially lowering the targets for lower-income countries, and that it would need more financial support to achieve emissions reductions.

Key to unblocking the dispute was an implicit agreement for EU leaders come back to discussions on national targets and financing for the energy transition in the first half of 2021, according to an EU official at the talks.

The lengthy negotiations also saw new language added highlighting the acceptability of gas as a transitional energy source.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in Brussels on Friday that a good agreement had been reached, as a result of which Poland would receive appropriate funds for a fair transformation of the energy sector. Warsaw should get funds amounting to 230 billion zloty (52 billion euros), he said.

Commission welcomes the deal

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also welcomed the deal. The new goal "puts us on a clear path towards climate neutrality in 2050," she said, a reference to an already agreed collective EU goal.

Ensuring an ambitious 2030 goal was crucial to reaching net zero emissions by the middle of the century, EU officials and experts have previously stressed.

Numerous environmental organizations criticized the new 2030 goal as insufficient.

Nonprofit group Oxfam said the new target "still falls short of what is needed and what is fair."

"The EU must take urgent practical steps to deliver above and beyond this target," the organization said.

Echoing similar sentiments, the Climate Action Network welcomed the agreement but said it didn't go far enough.

"But given the profound existential threat we are facing, EU leaders cannot allow overly high emissions to continue for another decade and will need to go beyond the agreed target. Science is clear that at least 65% emission cuts is the way forward," director Wendel Trio said.

So far the EU has cut 22% of its emissions compared to 1990, a recent commission study found.