It has taken a whole year and many hours of negotiation, but finally on Friday morning all the member states of the European Union have agreed: the continent will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% in 2030 (compared to 1990 levels). It has taken several hours of sleeplessness, in a debate that has dragged on into the night, to be able to add countries like Poland, still highly dependent on fossil fuels, to the bargain.
However, just one day before the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement, which on December 12 2015, brought together all the world’s governments to keep global warming below 2°C (or 1.5°C as a desirable goal), the European Union has agreed to raise its 40% emissions cut to 55%. The European Parliament was asking for 60% and NGOs were going further by demanding 65%, but the agreed reduction of more than half the emissions in ten years is consistent with what scientists believe is right.
The new 55% goal will finally be included in the European climate law, which was presented in April without this point due to lack of agreement from the East, and will also be presented as a renewed objective to the UN at the first climate summit, COP26, to be held next year in Glasgow (UK) after having to postpone it for a year due to the covid-19.
To achieve this, however, Poland has kept heads of state and governments up all night. From Thursday evening until this Friday morning at 8am, the heads of state and governments meeting in Brussels had not managed to convince the Polish government (the country is highly dependent on coal) to sign up to the commitment to reduce CO2 emissions 55% by 2030. Poland had already been an obstacle at the previous year’s summit, when it disassociated itself from the final conclusions, in which Europe committed itself to achieving climate neutrality by 2050.
The keys to the agreement
This time, what Poland was asking for was guarantees that it would receive sufficient European funds to carry out the energy transition that this commitment requires. It should be remembered that Poland was also one of the countries (along with Hungary) that vetoed the European budgets and the coronavirus recovery funds. Mateusz Morawiecki has become one of the protagonists of this last 2020 summit, complicating two key negotiations until the very end: the EU budget, and the climate goals.
According to European sources, one of the most sensitive issues, beyond the guarantees requested by Poland, has been the establishment of national goals by economic sectors. In fact, the objective of reducing emissions 55% by 2030 is global for the entire Union, which means that if Poland does not reach the necessary figure it can be compensated by another country that has managed to cut its emissions further. In this sense, it has been implicitly agreed that leaders will have to address the issue again in future meetings to give “additional recommendations” to governments.
For this reason, the Polish people have the Just Transition Fund, which must help them financially to make the energy transition to end their dependence on coal, and at the same time the need to make all these changes while “preserving the EU’s competitiveness and taking into account the different starting points and specific national circumstances and reduction potential of the different member states” is strongly emphasised.
During the early morning negotiations, the French representatives joined with the Eastern European representatives to get a clause included in the text that accepts “transitional technologies” such as gas among those eligible for subsidies, an element that has outraged climate NGOs such as Greenpeace. The agreed text defends “the right of member states to decide their energy mix and choose the most appropriate technologies to collectively achieve the climate objective by 2030, including transitional technologies such as gas”.
For Greenpeace EU climate advisor Sebastian Mang, the agreement reached on Friday “shows that political expediency takes precedence over climate science, and that most politicians are still afraid to attack big polluters. Without further action, the EU’s climate targets will allow oil and gas companies to survive, they will not transform the way we produce food fast enough to stop the climate emergency”. In fact, Greenpeace criticizes the lack of ambition because without new measures, emissions would already be reduced by 46% by 2030. Instead, they believe that in order to stop the climate “catastrophe” it is necessary to cut them by 65%. It should be remembered that the EP was asking for 60%.
The new 2030 target is in fact the start of the EU’s journey to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050 (emitting as much as it absorbs), in compliance with the Paris Agreement. The agreement can help Europe regain lost leadership in the global climate fight and adds to the good news of the change of administration in the United States, since Joe Biden will once again ratify the Paris Agreement, which Donald Trump had been unhappy about. However, the new Biden administration will have to work hard to reverse Trump’s denialist policies, which have wasted precious time for the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
Yet the world’s largest emitter, China, has so far only committed to peak emissions (to start reducing them) by 2030, even though it is expected to present more ambitious commitments than this at the next COP26. Without the effort of all international actors, the EU’s cut will do little to keep the planetary thermometer at bay.