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EU net-zero emissions target official after Council's approval

25 June 2021 Cristina Brooks

The EU has gained the legal muscle to reach its net-zero target through a package of regulations up for debate next month.

The Council of the EU on 28 June adopted the Climate Law, the legally binding instrument revising the EU's 2019 emissions targets to align with net-zero ambitions, for entry into force 20 days afterwards. This came four days after the European Parliament voted by a wide majority (442 to 203) to endorse it.

The law raises the EU's current 2030 goal, also pledged under the Paris Agreement, from 40% GHG cuts compared with 1990 levels, to 55% by 2030, putting it on track for climate neutrality by 2050.

The law's passage comes just in time to underpin the EC's 14 July batch of emissions-targeting legislation.

This package, known as the "Fit for 55 package," is part of the EC's European Green Deal pledge, and it will create the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism that might require emissions-based tariffs on imported goods like concrete to protect Europe's greening industries.

That package includes various revisions to the EU's emissions-cutting rules, such as the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS), which are likely to include several new sectors including heating for buildings, transport, and eventually shipping ; the Renewable Energy Directive; the Energy Efficiency Directive; plus the Land Use, Land Use Change, and Forestry (LULUCF) regulation, to name a few. The EU will also revisit standards for buildings, fuels, vehicles, and other sectors.

The European Parliament was the driving force behind the net-zero target within the EU system, calling for a net-zero pledge ahead of COP25, and then securing a commitment to legislate from the incoming European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in December 2019.

The European Parliament said it strengthened those proposals. Based on its suggestion, a European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change will be set up to monitor progress and to assess whether European policy is meeting its emissions goals.

The parliament reached an informal agreement with other legislative bodies in April, four months after every member state but Poland agreed in principle to the deal.

Parties in the parliament voting in favor of the Climate Law included centrist parties Renew Europe, the European People's Party, and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats.

Greens demur

But despite pushing for the EU's net-zero commitment, the Greens/EFA said the target agreed was "not enough" because it counted natural carbon sinks like forests towards meeting about 2% of the target. "The benchmark of the EU's climate policy must be the Paris Climate Agreement, but the European Climate Law does not meet the Paris goals. If we do not take countermeasures now, we risk global warming of between two and three degrees" Celsius, said Greens/EFA shadow environment rapporteur Micha Bloss in a statement.

Potentially aiming to address these concerns, the EC is working on a proposal to regulate GHG emissions from forestry and land use. Based on prior statements, its aim is to create larger EU carbon sinks, leading to a de facto increase in the EU's 2030 target to 57%.

Two members of the parliament from centrist parties, Pascal Canfin and Jytte Guteland, criticized their Green/EFA counterparts for voting against a target they said was the only immediately available option.

European countries have been at the forefront of a move to make national net-zero commitments, most of which came in the wake of 2015 Paris Agreement commitments.

While Bhutan and Suriname were already carbon negative, Norway in 2012 reached an internal political agreement to be carbon neutral by 2050 and later shortened the timeline to 2030. Sweden, home to the climate activist Greta Thunberg, legislated to reach net zero on a similar timeline in 2017, followed by New Zealand, Denmark, the UK, and France in 2019.

Germany gained a lead on reaching net zero before many countries on 27 June, when it amended an existing net-zero target to bring its deadline forward from 2050 to 2045, although it had been compelled to do so by a German court.

Posted 25 June 2021 by Cristina Brooks, Senior Journalist, Climate & Sustainability, IHS Markit

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