BRUSSELS: The European Union has reached a tentative climate deal to put the 27-nation bloc on a path to being “climate neutral” by 2050, with member states and parliament agreeing on binding targets for carbon emissions on the eve of a virtual summit hosted by US President Joe Biden.
“Our political commitment to becoming the first climate-neutral continent by 2050 is now also a legal commitment. The climate law sets the EU on a green path for a generation,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said early on Wednesday (Apr 21).
Under the provisional deal reached after officials negotiated through the night, the EU will also commit itself to an intermediate target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 per cent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.
“It was high time for the agreement, as Europe has to show where it stands in view of the positive developments in the USA and China,” said European Parliament member Peter Liese, the negotiator for the EPP Christian Democrat group.
The 2030 target had been 40 per cent, but under the pressure of increasing evidence of climate change and a more environmentally conscious electorate, it was pushed up, although the EU legislature had wanted a higher target of 60 per cent.
Lawmakers from The Greens specifically complained that too many accounting tricks had been used to reach the level of 55 per cent and that in reality the target would equate to a 52.8 per cent reduction of direct emissions.
Michael Bloss, a European lawmaker with the Greens, said EU member nations and parliament “have rushed through a weak climate law for the sake of a photo-op with President Joe Biden".
Environmental campaigners also criticised the deal.
“European decision-makers missed a historic opportunity to adequately address the climate crisis,” said Wendel Trio, director of Climate Action Network Europe. “This Climate Law is nothing more than a new package for what already exists.”
But the chair of the negotiations, Pascal Canfin of the Renew Europe group, said it had been necessary to find a middle way. "The compromise reached is ambitious: we will do 2.5 times more in nine years than we have done in the last 10 years in Europe,” he said.
The EU deal still needs to be officially approved by member countries and by the European Parliament, although the action should be little more than a rubber stamp.
The United States, the world’s second-biggest polluter after China, is preparing to announce its new target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 at the summit Thursday.
The virtual gathering is part of Biden's pledge to rejoin international efforts to curb global warming, which included rejoining the Paris climate accord that his predecessor, Donald Trump, quit last year.
While the US is expected to aim for bigger cuts than the EU, it does so from a position of having far higher emissions.
Ultimately, both Washington and Brussels are aiming to go "climate neutral" by mid-century - adding only as many emissions as can be absorbed through natural or technological means - and want other major polluters such as China and India to do the same.
Scientists say this goal needs to be achieved to keep average global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius by the year 2100. The Paris accord’s more ambitious target of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century compared with pre-industrial times would likely require even more drastic worldwide cuts in emissions.
Participating nations are set to meet at the annual UN climate conference, which is being held in November in Glasgow, Scotland, to push for more ambitious targets.