Fears for EU climate ambition as countries seek to weaken proposals

Factbox-EU countries agree deals on laws to fight climate change
Factbox-EU countries agree deals on laws to fight climate change Copyright Thomson Reuters 2022
By Reuters
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By Kate Abnett

BRUSSELS – European Union countries are seeking changes to a raft of climate change policies in negotiations on the laws, raising concerns that moves to weaken measures could see the EU miss its green goals.

The EU is negotiating a huge overhaul of its carbon market and laws on energy, transport and forests, upgrading them to achieve a 2030 target to cut net greenhouse gas emissions by 55% from 1990 levels.

Agreeing climate measures is an oft-fraught task for the EU’s 27 member countries, whose reliance on fossil fuels and appetite for rapid emissions cuts varies. But divisions over the policies have intensified as governments negotiate them amid soaring inflation and energy costs.

Draft proposals for countries’ positions on the laws, seen by Reuters and which member states will attempt to agree on next week, show moves to weaken some compared with original proposals by the European Commission, which drafts EU laws and proposed the package last summer.

A draft proposal on carbon market reforms would delay by a year the launch of a new market for buildings and transport, while in a proposal on energy savings a target to reduce primary energy consumption would no longer be legally binding.

Countries are also considering weakening to 40% a target for industry to use 50% renewable hydrogen by 2030, and a binding obligation for fuel suppliers to reach a 2.6% share of renewable fuels for transport by 2030 could become voluntary, diplomats said.

“In all the different files, ambition is watered down. There’s not one file where ambition increased or stayed the same,” one diplomat said.

Some diplomats also raised concerns that a proposal to end new fossil fuel car sales in 2035 could be derailed, after Germany’s finance minister said this week that Berlin would not support it.

The draft agreements could still change before EU country ministers agree joint positions on them next week, before negotiating the final laws with the European Parliament.

Multiple nations want changes to the proposals, as commitments to protect the planet collide with the demands of other national interests and industries. Spain had sought to curb the energy savings goal, while Hungary, Bulgaria and Poland were among those seeking weaker renewables targets for transport, diplomats said.

Even if the weaker elements were agreed, the package of new laws would be a big step up in emissions-cutting ambition compared with Europe’s current climate policies, requiring large investments from governments and industries to switch to cleaner cars, energy and industrial processes.

What is not yet clear is whether the changes, if approved, would cause the EU to miss its climate goals.

EU countries and Parliament typically change parts of the Commission proposals in their negotiations. But the climate policies are designed to add up to deliver the EU’s 55% emissions reduction target – so weakening ambition in one law may require strengthening ambition in another, to make sure the overall target is still met.

The EU Parliament has already confirmed its negotiating positions on some files, raising ambition in some areas and scaling it back in others.

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