EU member states strike late-night deal on climate laws

Vice President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Eastern France, Nov. 24 2021.
Vice President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Eastern France, Nov. 24 2021. Copyright Julien Warnand, Pool Photo via AP
By Alice Tidey
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The EU wants to become the world's first carbon-neutral continent by 2050.


European Union member states reached a deal in the early hours of the morning on Wednesday on a series of measures they hope should put the bloc on track to become carbon neutral by 2050.

It took environment ministers gathered in Luxembourg about 17 hours to reach compromises on five sensitive laws that form part of the bloc's Fit for 55 package that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030​ compared to 1990s levels.

The measures they agreed on were regarding the EU emissions trading system, emissions and removals from land use, land-use change, and forestry, the creation of a social climate fund (SCF) and new CO2 emission performance standards for cars and vans.

Among the most eye-catching measures are the addition of maritime shipping in the EU emissions trading system (ETS), the creation of a new, separate emissions trading system for the buildings and road transport sectors, the allocated €59 billion for the SCF, the overall objective to remove 310 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent by improving land and forestry use, and the end of the sale of combustion-engine cars by 2035.

Agnès Pannier-Runacher, French minister for the energy transition, who led the negotiations, described the proposals as "a major step forward in the fight against global warming."

"Decarbonising our energy systems through a massive deployment of renewable energies and significant efforts in energy savings is essential to achieve our climate objectives. It will also help us to reduce our dependence on Russia for energy, in the context of the war in Ukraine," she added in a statement.

Frans Timmermans, the Commission's Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, told reporters that "it is a very good day for the European Green Deal, and a very good day for the European Union."

"I want to stress that today's negotiations were long and sometimes complicated because these are very, very, very far-reaching proposals," he continued.

"We now have a common position on these major issues from the Council, from the European Parliament, which will give us the possibility to start the negotiations with a very short deadline. And we need that. The world is not waiting. The climate crisis does not wait. The geopolitical challenges do not wait and Europe has to show unity, determination, global leadership," he added. 

The European Parliament now has to back these laws. MEPs have already approved a ban on the sale of combustion-engine cars and vans after 2035 but the other measures may prove more difficult for them to endorse as they are.

Indeed, climate activists say ministers failed to deliver. The WWF NGO accused ministers of watering down the initial Commission proposals which they said "were already insufficient to reach the 1.5°C target in the Paris Agreement."

"Instead of strengthening the Commission’s feeble proposals they’ve done their best to water them down, and have added every loophole and exemption they can think of to try and wriggle out of taking action. Industry lobbyists will be sipping champagne but today is a dark day for the climate and for people," Alex Mason, Head of Climate & Energy at WWF European Policy Office said in a statement.

The environmental NGO decried the Social Climate Fund as smaller and weaker than initially proposed, and not going nearly far enough to help those most vulnerable to the energy transition as well as the unchanged ambition to reduce by 61% by 2030 emissions in the sectors covered by the EU ETS.

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