MEPs will next week debate whether the European Union should set itself a more ambitious target for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.
At issue is whether the EU should stick to its current target for 2020 of cutting emissions by 20% compared to 1990 levels. Many MEPs have already voted in favour of raising that target to 30%.
On Monday (28 February), MEPs from the Parliament’s environment committee will debate how to put these higher cuts into effect, at an event with industry representatives, climate experts, and Connie Hedegaard, the European Commissioner for climate action.
The ‘20% v 30%’ question continues to divide the European Commission and national governments, and is fast becoming a totemic issue for the EU’s claim to global leadership on climate action.
With the Commission to publish a keenly awaited ‘roadmap’ charting the route to a low-carbon economy by 2050 in March, a possible move to 30% is being debated with renewed vigour.
“The 30% is a kind of a visualisation of whether you want to go to that different economy or not,” said Bas Eickhout, a Dutch Green MEP. The 20% target “is business as usual” and “no ambitious climate policy”, he said.
The MEP is drafting an own-initiative report for the Parliament’s environment committee on the move to 30%, which he hopes all MEPs will adopt in June.
He sees his report as increasing pressure on the EU. Last November a narrow majority of MEPs voted for the EU to go for 30% “in the interests of [its] future economic growth”. “That’s a nice target, but what does it mean?” asked Eickhout, who promised that his report would offer fresh insights on achieving the target, as well as making links to upcoming negotiations on the EU’s multi-year budget settlement and use of cohesion funds.
For the advocates of greater ambition, the debate has gained new urgency since a leaked draft of the Commission’s 2050 roadmap failed to mention the 30% target. Commission officials insist that 30% “is still on the table” and was never meant to be debated in the context of this supposedly politically-neutral roadmap.
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But Eickhout said that the Commission was being “absolutely naive” because its document includes lower figures for 2020. “Come on, you are the Commission! What is your ambition? Cannot you be clear?” he demanded, dismissing the roadmap as “disappointing” because it would delay action.
But the question divides the Parliament too. The largest group, the centre-right EPP, has doubts about a move to 30%. Romana Jordan Cizelj, one of its Slovenian members, who is drafting a rival report for the Parliament’s industry committee, said that the EU “cannot go unilaterally to 30%”. Other countries must make similar moves, she insists, although she says she is “in favour of defining instruments that will enable us to go beyond 20%”.
What she has in mind is exploiting EU research spending, cohesion funds and the debate on the EU’s multi-annual budget. In her view, making these policies climate-friendly “should be our goal”, rather than “quarrels” about the 2020 target.
The Parliament debate coincides with the release of a report arguing that the EU could boost jobs and growth by raising the 2020 target. Moving to a 30% target could increase annual output by 0.6% and create six million new jobs by 2020, according to a study led by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, published on Monday (21 February) and commissioned by Germany’s environment ministry.
By contrast, Axel Eggert of the European Confederation of Iron and Steel Industries (Eurofer) is convinced that the 30% target is “unachievable”. Eggert, who will be speaking at the Parliament event, said: “In sectors like steel there will be no breakthrough technologies until 2025 at the earliest.”
In his view, the steel industry “is the backbone of the European economy” – and provides raw material for wind turbines and generators: “Do you really want to produce all the steel for windmills in China, where maybe you will not have high-quality steel?” he asked.