EU Climate targets: What’s the deal?

Last week Brussels was host to a heated EU summit aiming for an agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions across Europe. Campaigners were hoping for a deal that would see Europe take a leading role globally on climate policy. In the early hours of Friday a deal was agreed whereby greenhouse gas emissions will be cut across the EU as a whole by 40% by 2030, compared with 1990 levels.

The deal, which was described by Energy and Climate Change Secretary Edward Davey as “a historic moment”, was revealed in a tweet by the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy.

EU nations have also agreed to increase the use of renewable energy to 27% of total energy production and increase energy efficiency to at least 27% compared to a 1990 baseline. The renewable energy target is binding at EU-wide level, but the later target will only rely on the voluntary action of nations.

French President, François Hollande, said the deal would send out a clear message to the world’s big polluters, such as China and the United States, to agree global legally-binding greenhouse gas emissions at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris next year.

Ed Davey said “Europe has sent a clear and firm message to the world that ambitious climate action is needed now… it lays down the gauntlet to the world to come forward with ambitious climate targets.”

The summit was characterised by arguments between nations such as Poland, which is heavily reliant on coal-powered plants for energy and was concerned about the financial burdens arising from nationally-binding targets, and those such as Germany, that were willing to push for a higher target of 50% emission reduction by 2030, as well as binding targets to force countries to cut their energy consumption.

The UK Government were opposed to nationally-binding targets for renewables, with a Downing Street spokeswoman reported as stating that “it’s important that you’ve got flexibility over your energy mix.” Under the new deal, from 2020 the UK will no longer be legally required to generate a certain proportion of its energy from renewables. Current legally-binding targets require the UK to generate 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.

Trade union and business leaders had called for EU leaders to agree strong climate and energy targets, threatening that nearly one million potential jobs would be at risk from weak targets. Bernadette Ségol, the leader of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) which represents around 60 million workers, said “the lower the target, the fewer the jobs that are created. Governments opposing ambitious and binding targets are wasting an opportunity to reduce Europe’s shameful levels of unemployment. Politicians risk throwing away up to 823,000 new jobs that could be created by more ambitious targets.” ETUC had previously called for emissions to be reduced by at least 40% and a European objective of 30% renewable energy.

Some environmental organisations have condemned the deal as being too weak. Oxfam EU said “it is shocking that business leaders called for more ambitious targets than those agreed by EU leaders”. Greenpeace EU described the targets as “too low” and said they were “slowing down efforts to boost renewable energy and keeping Europe hooked on polluting and expensive fuels.”

Experts have said that the 40% emission reduction will not be enough to avoid the risk of dangerous climate change. Prof Jim Skea, a vice-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, commented that the 40% target will mean future EU leaders will need to make a three-fold cut in emissions in just 20 years which is unlikely to be credible.

The new European Commission is expected to translate the 2030 climate targets into EU legislation next year. With the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris in December 2015 expected to finalise agreement on climate protection to replace Kyoto Protocol, it remains to be seen if world leaders will be capable of setting ambitious targets that aim to avoid a course of dangerous climate change or if they will settle for politically-achievable compromise.