BRUSSELS – European Union leaders agreed Thursday they need to raise their climate ambition above the existing target but stopped short of endorsing a proposal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% compared to 1990 levels.
Leaders discussed the proposal from the bloc's executive arm on the first day of an EU summit in Brussels, and came to the conclusion that the updated goal should be achieved “collectively" to take into account the different energy mixes of member states.
According to the meeting's conclusions, leaders will try to find a consensus during another meeting to be held in December, ahead of the adoption of the first-ever European climate law.
“All Member States will participate in this effort, taking into account national circumstances and considerations of fairness and solidarity," the conclusions read.
The text was sufficiently vague to find a consensus and could open the door to tailor-made arrangements capable of clinching the approval of all 27 member states.
While the European Parliament pushes for an even greater 60% reduction in emissions, eastern EU countries that depend on coal for much of their energy needs are less enthusiastic. They worry about the social, environmental and economic costs of the transition to a greener economy. Poland last year did not commit to the EU’s 2050 climate neutrality goal and has asked for more details about the measures.
Speaking upon arrival at the summit, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis pleaded in favor of a collective target, saying that his country could not reach it alone.
“I think every country has a different energy mix, and we have to take it into consideration,” he said. “If we agree on 55% average in the EU, the Czech Republic (does not) have any problem."
In proposing a reduction of at least 55%, compared with the current target of a 40% reduction by 2030, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen predicted in September that the new target would be “too much for some and not enough for others.”
So far the cuts have been slightly more than 20% over the past 30 years. Reducing emissions by another 20% or even 35% within the next decade poses a big challenge to many countries.
Supported by Germany, Von der Leyen’s revised target needs to be endorsed by the 27 member states in order to make it legally binding. On Wednesday, a group of 11 countries including Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Ireland, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden embraced her ambition in a joint statement published ahead of the summit in Brussels.
Von der Leyen has said she wants 37% of the 750 billion euros in the coronavirus recovery fund to be given to EU countries to spend on environmental objectives, while 30% of the bloc's regular budget should be used for tackling climate change.
World leaders agreed five years ago in Paris to keep the global warming increase to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), and ideally no more than 1.5 degrees C (2.7 F) by the end of the century.
Scientists say countries will miss both of those goals by a wide margin unless drastic steps are taken to begin cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Under the Paris Agreement, countries are due to submit updated climate targets by the end of the year.
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