European climate law: Council reaches agreement on large parts of the proposal

Today, the Council reached agreement on a partial general approach on the proposed European climate law. The aim of the proposal is to set in legislation the objective of a climate-neutral EU by 2050, which was endorsed by the European Council in December 2019.

The EU is firmly committed to becoming climate neutral by 2050. While the European Council has announced that it will return to the greenhouse gas emissions reduction target for 2030 at its December meeting with a view to agreeing on a new target, I am pleased to announce that today we were able to reach agreement among member states on large parts of the European climate law proposal. It is important that we make as much progress as possible on this key piece of legislation. Last week, the European Council invited the Council to take work on this agenda forward, and today, after an intense discussion, we were able to reach an important milestone as regards the proposal for a European climate law.

Svenja Schulze, Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety of Germany

In its position, the Council stresses the importance of promoting both fairness and solidarity among member states and cost-effectiveness in achieving the climate neutrality objective.

The Council’s position is partial because it does not yet specify an updated 2030 greenhouse gas emission reduction target, given that further work is needed to reach agreement among member states in this regard. Agreeing a partial Council position is an opportunity to consolidate the progress achieved during months of intense negotiations among member states – discussions at expert level started in March 2020 – and can help the Council to finalise its (full) general approach once agreement on the outstanding issues has been reached.

The Council has amended the part of the original proposal which would have allowed the Commission to adopt, by means of delegated acts, a trajectory for achieving climate neutrality. Instead, the Council asks the Commission to propose an intermediate target for 2040 after the first global stocktake of the Paris Agreement. The Council retains the concept of an indicative, linear trajectory but only as a tool to help the Commission in assessing progress.

In order to ensure that in the years to come the EU will remain on track to achieve its climate-neutrality objective, the Council tasks the Commission with reporting on the operation of the European climate law within six months after each global stocktake under the Paris Agreement. Where appropriate, the Commission may make proposals to amend the European climate law.

Background and next steps

The EU’s and the member states’ climate action aims to protect people and the planet, welfare, prosperity, health, food systems, the integrity of eco-systems and biodiversity against the threat of climate change, to maximize prosperity within the planetary boundaries and to increase resilience and reduce vulnerability of society to climate change.

According to the European Environment Agency and its latest available data, by 2019 the EU had reduced its overall greenhouse gas emissions by 24% compared to 1990 levels. This means that the EU is set to surpass its 2020 emission reduction target of 20%. In addition it has currently in place a binding target of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030.

The European Council, in its conclusions of 12 December 2019, agreed on the objective of achieving a climate-neutral EU by 2050, in line with the objectives of the Paris Agreement, while also recognising that it is necessary to put in place an enabling framework that benefits all member states and encompasses adequate instruments, incentives, support and investments to ensure a cost-efficient, just, as well as socially balanced and fair transition, taking into account different national circumstances in terms of starting points.

On 4 March 2020, the Commission adopted its proposal for a European climate law and presented it to ministers at the Environment Council on 5 March 2020. The proposal is part of a broader package of ambitious actions announced in the Commission’s European Green Deal communication.

On 17 September 2020, the Commission published a communication on the 2030 climate target plan, accompanied by a comprehensive impact assessment. The Commission also adopted a proposal amending the initial Commission proposal on the European climate law to include a revised EU emission reduction target of at least 55% by 2030.

Discussions on the proposal started during the Croatian Presidency and have continued under the German Presidency, including more recently on the amended proposal.

The European Council discussed the topic of increasing the EU’s 2030 target at its meeting on 15 October. It decided to return to the issue at its December meeting with a view to agreeing a new emissions reduction target for 2030.

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