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Ten Countries Block EU Climate Target Change


Environment ministers agreed on Friday (4 October) to “update” the EU’s current emission reduction pledge next year but fell short of saying by how much. Ten countries blocked attempts by the others to commit outright to an increase there and then.

EU climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete (L) and Finland’s environment minister, Krista Mikkonen (R), hold a press conference after the council’s conclusion. [Photo: European Council]

At an environment council meeting in Luxembourg, the EU’s 28 national delegates gave their blessing to a joint position ahead of the UN’s annual climate conference in December.

Ministers agreed to a text that again says the Council will complete its work on a pending climate-neutrality goal for 2050 by the end of the year. But the final conclusions on the EU’s 2030 target were watered down.

Under a first draft of the text, the EU would increase its so-called Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) of 40% “in a manner that represents a progression of ambition beyond the current one and that reflects the EU’s highest possible ambition”. 

That part was ultimately cut from the final version, which now simply reads “in 2020, the EU will update its NDC as agreed in Paris”.

EU climate chief Miguel Arias Cañete said in a press briefing afterwards that “under the Paris Agreement parties have to ‘update’ or ‘communicate’. Here, we’ve chosen ‘update’.” He also quoted the draft conclusions, labelling the final version a “progression of ambition”.

Ten countries – Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Malta, Poland and Romania – blocked efforts to include more explicit language. Of those ten, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland are the last hold-outs on the 2050 deal.

“A long-awaited decision to massively scale up EU emission cuts has been delayed yet again at a time when millions of people take to the street to protest against government inaction,” said Wendel Trio, head of environmental group CAN Europe.

He added that “the EU needs to commit to a much higher target in early 2020 to encourage other countries to do the same”.

Incoming European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has pledged to increase the NDC to 50% and to bump it up to 55% when appropriate. Cañete reiterated on Friday that current EU policies mean the bloc is de facto on course to hit 45%.

While Germany and Eastern European countries continue to oppose raising the EU’s 40% emission reduction target for 2030, a new analysis insists the bloc will actually manage at least 50% cuts under a business-as-usual scenario taking into account the latest coal phase-out pledges.

Not a bad result

EU diplomats were not overly disappointed with the result of the council though and even praised the fact member states had come to an agreement ahead of COP25 in Chile, which was the main objective of the meeting.

According to officials contacted by EURACTIV the lack of unanimity on ratcheting up the target at this stage was expected but they warned that patience with countries still dragging their feet is beginning to wear thin.

The Czech Republic and Poland in particular refuse to commit to new targets until the costs of ditching fossil fuels are explained fully. Polish energy officials last week insisted that the idea of going carbon neutral by 2050 is “a fantasy”.

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