European Green Law Risks Delay as Leaders Seek to Defer Decision

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a close up of a windmill: Wind turbines operated by Vattenfall AB sit on a wind farm in Aggersund, Denmark.


© Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
Wind turbines operated by Vattenfall AB sit on a wind farm in Aggersund, Denmark.

A landmark law to strengthen European Union climate policies and make the 2050 goal of climate-neutrality irreversible risks falling off a fast-track approval process, as the bloc’s leaders take time to consider the economic impact of the unprecedented overhaul in the midst of the deepest recession on record.

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EU heads of government plan to discuss the draft measure at their two-day gathering next week but may stop short of supporting a more ambitious intermediate target for 2030, according to a draft of their joint communique seen by Bloomberg News. Their political endorsement, key for ministers to reach an agreement on the technical details of the law, and a stricter emissions-reduction goal for the next decade may come only in December.

“The European Council considers that the updated target should be delivered collectively by the EU in the most cost-effective manner possible, and that all member states will participate in this effort, balancing considerations of fairness and solidarity,” according to the draft of the statement to be adopted by the leaders after their Oct. 15-16 summit in Brussels. The wording is subject to changes before leaders meet.

At stake is the pace of a green revolution that will affect everything from transport to farming, putting the 27-nation EU in sync with the goals of the Paris Agreement to fight climate change. The European Climate Law will pave the way for a torrent of regulations that will impose stricter emissions standards, strengthen the region’s carbon market and further stimulate clean energy production.

2030 Goal

The European Commission, the bloc’s regulatory arm, proposed last month that as part of the Green Deal the bloc deepen its 2030 emissions-cut goal to at least 55%. The current target target, agreed only 6 years ago, is a reduction of at least 40% from 1990 levels.

To become binding, the climate law needs support from national governments and the European Parliament in negotiations that are yet to begin. To enter the talks, ministers from member states need to agree on a common stance, a move that traditionally needs political guidance from the leaders on climate issues.

The challenge is that, unlike ministers, leaders make decisions by unanimity and Poland, which relies on coal for some 70% of power generation, has said it needs to carefully assess the economic impact of the tighter climate goals before making a decision. The government in Warsaw declined to commit to climate neutrality at a national level at an EU summit last year while stopping short of blocking a deal on a Europe-wide objective to eliminate emissions by 2050.

Germany, which chairs the talks as the holder of the EU’s rotating presidency, wants to reach a deal on the climate law before the end of this year. While it has already secured the required majority support for the 55% emissions-reduction goal, according to two diplomats with knowledge of the talks, putting a deal to a vote without the unanimous green light from the leaders may pose a diplomatic problem.

One option for the German presidency may be to propose a partial deal at a meeting of environment ministers on Oct. 23 and begin negotiations with the European Parliament on various elements of the climate law excluding the exact 2030 target. That may help limit the delay but will not avoid it.

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