EU finally agrees on target for 40% greenhouse emission cuts ahead of Paris climate talks

Miguel Arias Cañete, Member of the EC in charge of Climate Action and Energy, received Hakima El Haite, Moroccan Minister Delegate in charge of Environment. Meeting in the presence of Hakima El Haite, 2nd from the left, Menouar Alem, Head of Mission of Morocco to the EU, 1st from the left, and Miguel Arias Cañete, 2nd from the right (EC Audiovisual Services, 17/09/2015)

Miguel Arias Cañete, Member of the EC in charge of Climate Action and Energy, received Hakima El Haite, Moroccan Minister Delegate in charge of Environment. Meeting in the presence of Hakima El Haite, 2nd from the left, Menouar Alem, Head of Mission of Morocco to the EU, 1st from the left, and Miguel Arias Cañete, 2nd from the right (EC Audiovisual Services, 17/09/2015)

“Today’s extraordinary meeting of the Environment Council set out the EU’s position for the new global climate agreement”. Those are the words that European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete chose at the end of the Environment Council, last Friday, where the EU officially set out its position for the Paris climate conference (COP21) next December.

A “robust and binding” deal

“We are now equipped with a solid position for Paris”, commissioner Arias Cañete declared. “The EU stands united and ready to negotiate an ambitious, robust and binding global climate deal”, he also said. Indeed last Friday European Union’s ministers formally committed to a 40% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 over 1990 levels.

“We will settle for nothing less. President Juncker made it clear in his State of the Union speech last week that the EU is not prepared to sign just any deal. It is now imperative to step up the pace of the technical negotiations”, commissioner Arias Cañete stressed, underlining once more the crucial importance of upcoming Paris climate talks, at the end of the year. “There are just five negotiating days left before we meet in Paris and the real deal needs to start taking shape”.

EU position

Last week’s meeting became a milestone on the way to Paris even before its kick-off. Many were anticipating for an official EU position to come, loud and clear. The bloc has been broadly criticized in the past for an alleged lack of transparency and most of all unity as a front against global warming. As the main key-takeaway of last week’s meeting, it is now evident that the EU wants to showcase a new approach.

In a joint-statement at the morrow of last week’s meeting the EU now considers “crucial” to provide “a clearly defined pathway” to achieve the so-called “below 2°C objective”, meaning to maintain the increase in the global average temperature below 2°C above the pre-industrial level. Commissioner Arias Cañete said the EU goals were consistent with those UN goals, which scientists see as key to avoiding dramatic consequences, like catastrophic events and sea level rises. “Global greenhouse gas emissions need to peak by 2020 at the latest, be reduced by at least by 50% by 2050 compared to 1990 and be near zero or below by 2100”, the Commissioner added.

Finance rules

As in every measure to take, finance plays a crucial role. In their joint statement, EU ministers said it is “essential that countries should come together regularly every five years to consider and strengthen emission targets”, following the latest progresses made by science. Luxembourg’s environment minister Carole Dieschbourg, who will represent the European Council in Paris, reportedly confirmed all countries were firmly behind plans for regular 5-year reviews of global climate efforts. “This is very important if we want to have a credible agreement in Paris”, she said. “We will push on accountability and transparency which is very important for the EU,” she further added.

Environmental groups’ mild scepticism

Green groups said the EU’s environment ministers’ position last week still is not enough. The Guardian quoted Greenpeace EU energy policy adviser Jiri Jerabek saying “The EU’s position is still far from what is needed to reach an effective global deal”. The main variable – and the biggest doubt – still lies though on the unity front.

A long story

Almost one year ago, the European Union Heads of State reached an agreement on what it was welcomed as “the world’s most ambitious” target yet for cutting carbon emissions. A few hours before the agreement was reached, Poland threatened to veto the deal unless “the costs to its economy and industry were cut under a system of concessions from the EU’s carbon trading system”, as the European Sting reported at the time.

Poland’s objections

Still as of last week, Poland was one of the biggest matters of concern, we could say. The elections in the Eastern European country indeed complicated a bit the debate, as the right-wing Law and Justice party has been campaigning recently on a commitment to protect the coal industry. Many sources revealed that Poland realised it was the only player to formally object the text and thus softened its position after a few adjustments in the text.

All in all, last week’s meeting represents for sure a clear-cut step ahead of Paris’ upcoming meeting. COP21 will be a crucial moment for the fight against global warming and the EU has to play a decisive role. “With this solid position, the EU will be a deal maker in Paris, and not just a deal taker,” commissioner Arias Cañete said with no doubts, marking our biggest hope.

The last negotiating session before Paris will take place in Bonn, Germany, from 19-23 October. The 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) will take place in Paris from 30 November-11 December 2015.

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