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MEPs press the EU on climate ambition and governance

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Today, the ENVI Committee of the European Parliament voted its position on the European Climate Law. Beyond agreeing an ambitious 60% emission reduction target for 2030, MEPs agreed on several governance provisions which would ensure that the Union does achieve its climate objectives. This sets critical benchmarks for negotiations between Member States governments expected to close next month.

In March 2020, the Commission proposed a European Climate Law to enshrine into law Europe’s goal of becoming climate-neutral by 2050. It was overall received as a step forward in setting higher climate targets for the Union, but NGOs and activists warned about the risk of turning it into an empty shell due to a lack of provisions on how to actually achieve the proposed 2050 goal.

The proposals came out only a few days before European Member States started to lock down due to impacts of COVID-19. Despite the reprioritisation of policy and political discussions to stabilise the economy and facilitate a fast and effective recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, the EU’s maintained its commitment to the fight against climate change and is on track to increase its climate ambition. Today’s vote confirms the commitment of the European Parliament to deliver a fair and science-based transition by setting up an enhanced climate governance.

Governance additions

Today’s vote confirmed the Union’s climate neutrality goal by 2050 and a large majority of MEPs (more than 3 out of 4 MEPs) backed ways to make this commitment firmer.

First, MEPs proposed to extend the binding 2050 climate neutrality objective to national governments and to require the Union to achieve negative emissions thereafter. To further enshrine and keep pace with the long-term commitment to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, MEPs are also calling on the Commission to explore options for setting an intermediate 2040 target.

Secondly, MEPs agreed to complement the Commission’s proposals with one of the core elements of existing national climate laws: an independent advisory body. MEPs are calling to set up an EU Climate Change Council (ECCC), responsible for assessing consistency among policies and progress towards objectives, identifying actions and opportunities, providing guidance on climate objectives, and exposing the consequences of inaction. This lays out a science-based approach to define a consistent and efficient approach to future challenges. It is a great step forward to enhance the accountability and transparency of all policymaking.

Finally, in line with the urgency of making the best use of public resources, MEPs are also calling to align private and public finance flows with the climate neutrality objective and to phase out of direct and indirect fossil fuel subsidies by end 2025.

In the end, MEPs did not support amendments that would have required the Commission to present a Union’s roadmap for GHG emissions reductions for each sector and regularly update it every five years. Is successfully done, this could have been another great contribution to even stronger governance, as roadmaps can play a role in boosting confidence in the direction of travel and identify gaps ahead of time.

The other missing piece in the agreement is a tightened provision on access to justice. The ENVI position includes wording on protecting citizens’ rights to life and a safe environment. However, it does not go far enough to align with the standards guaranteed by the Aarhus Convention.

2030 ambition

The main political fight in these negotiations has certainly been on the increased ambitions for the 2030 GHG target. The lead rapporteur managed to build up the support of the ENVI Committee for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. The amendment passed with a very tight majority of three votes, after great public pressure on the Renew Europe group from campaigners and activists like Greta Thunberg and Adélaïde Charlier.

The ENVI committee’s position goes beyond the rumoured Commission’s proposals for increasing the EU’s 2030 target to “at least 55%” – a position also shared by the ITRE and TRAN Committees in their opinions.

What’s next?

The European Parliament will have to confirm the ENVI position in the next plenary session during the first week of October. In parallel, European environmental ministers are aiming at agreeing their own common position on the European Climate Law and governance of the EU’s climate objectives by the next ENVI Council on October 23rd. Following the result from today’s vote, the German Presidency should feel the heat to define a position that lives up the expectations and is not a mere “symbolic law”. If the Council manages to achieve a general approach in October, trilogues may start soon thereafter. Otherwise, in case of delay, it will be up to the Portugues presidency to steer the negotiations to the end.    

Agreement on the 2030 target will follow a different track. The European Commission is expected to issue its proposal and impact assessment for an increased 2030 target during the “State of the Union” speech of September 15th. European heads of state and government will want to agree on the new target among themselves before European ministers and MEPs put it into law.

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