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What to make of the European Climate Law

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Photo by London Climate Strike on Flickr

Today the European Commission released the proposal for a first-ever European Climate Law, keeping their promise to launch it within the first 100 days of office. The Climate Law is a bold move by the Commission in governance terms and could successfully put the EU on track to meet its long-term climate objective. The legislation also provides a stepping stone for implementing the revamped EU growth strategy outlined in the Communication on the European Green Deal.

The Law’s core elements

As expected, the proposed Climate Law enshrines the climate neutrality by 2050 objective into law. It goes one step further by clarifying the EU-wide nature of this target and recognising national circumstances.

The “how to get there” builds on existing instruments, echoing the fundamentals of the recently agreed Energy Union Governance. Relying on the integrated National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs) and existing related processes is a strong basis for the European Climate Law. Nevertheless, the Governance regulation is only being rolled out as we write. While most member states are playing by the rules, some are submitting their national energy and climate plans to the Commission late.

In a moment of extraordinary public and internal pressure to take climate action, the real significance of the long-term target is its ripple effect on the broader European policy framework. The European Commission is setting up a series of new measures – turning their climate action promise into a reality. Under the Climate Law, the Commission commits to aligning sectoral contributions to the climate neutrality objective by June 2021 (Article 2). The Commission is now also obliged to review all EU legislation and check their compatibility with achieving the climate goal (Article 5). There is a case to be made for revising the fine print of some these elements to guarantee their effectiveness. This is a tectonic shift.

The EU Climate Law also meets the expectations to make sure things happened on the ground. The Commission is now suggesting a reinforcement of assessment, monitoring and corrective measures to track progress towards the achievement of the climate target (Article 6).

Let us highlight three main conclusions:

 

It cannot be more of the same

The Climate Law builds upon existing policy and measures agreed less than two years ago in the Governance of the Energy Union. This regulation sets out the framework to implement the Clean Energy Package through an innovative process turning around the integrated NECPs. But the stakes are too high for the EU Climate Law to just become Governance regulation 2.0.

The success or failure of the Climate Law will be crucial for the future of the Union. With the European Green Deal, the Union is pursuing a brand-new political mission for the next 30 years. With all the internal and international challenges the EU faces, climate policy must be a story of success. Eventually, the Climate Law will be instrumental in bringing all the pieces together in the run to 2050 and beyond. This is not a technocratic exercise. On the contrary, a holistic and political approach must be in place and build upon an independent assessment and cooperative decisions with consistency across sectors.  

Unpopular bets should not monopolize the scene

The proposal to adopt delegated acts, which empower the Commission to supplement or amend EU legislation alone, by drawing a trajectory to achieve the Union’s climate neutrality is a bet that co-legislators are not likely to welcome. The mere suggestion of taking oversight of climate target away from member states is a brave move.

When establishing the trajectory, delegated acts will be driven by a list of general principles including; cost-effectiveness, energy efficiency, just transition, investment opportunities and needs and the best available science. The previously absent emphasis on scientific knowledge is a positive development to accelerate a fair transition to a carbon neutral economy. But where will that assessment of science come from?

It will be crucial for the European Parliament and the Member States, at least the more progressive ones, to support this climate law. There is more to it than the shiny new target-setting process, in particular the mechanisms to align EU regulations and directives with climate neutrality.

Do not put off until tomorrow what you can do today

The proposal to start drawing the 2050 trajectory after 2030 should be revised. Getting the medium-term target right will be key to successfully reaching climate neutrality.

Furthermore, the impact assessment on the updated 2030 emissions reduction target needs to be published by June 2020, not in September as mentioned in the proposal. It took leaders 14 months and three European Councils to sign off climate neutrality. Unless the Commission has an ace up its sleeve, it is unclear how they will reach agreement on an updated 2030 target before COP26, or ideally before the September EU-China Summit.  Pressure from 12 Member States and the EU Parliament is already pushing the Commission to revise the proposed date.