EU reaches major climate deal ahead of Biden summit

EU reaches major climate deal ahead of Biden summit
Ursula von der Leyen (John Thys, Pool via AP)

The European Union has reached a tentative climate deal intended to make the 27-nation bloc climate-neutral by 2050, with member states and parliament agreeing on new carbon emissions targets on the eve of a virtual summit hosted by US President Joe Biden.

“Our political commitment to becoming the first climate-neutral continent by 2050 is now also a legal commitment. The climate law sets the EU on a green path for a generation,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said early Wednesday.

Under the provisional deal, reached after officials negotiated through the night, the EU will also commit itself to an intermediate target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 compared with 1990 levels.

“It was high time for the agreement, as Europe has to show where it stands in view of the positive developments in the USA and China,” said European Parliament member Peter Liese, the negotiator for the EPP Christian Democrat group.

The 2030 target had been 40%, but under the pressure of increasing evidence of climate change and a more environmentally conscious electorate, it was pushed up, although the EU legislature had wanted a higher target of 60%.

Legislators from the Greens specifically complained that too many accounting tricks had been used to reach the level of 55% and the reduction would equate to 52.8% of direct emissions.

Its environmental expert, MEP Michael Bloss, said EU member nations and parliament “have rushed through a weak climate law for the sake of a photo-op with President Joe Biden”.

The US is not our big brother on climate. We are the big brother or the big sister. So they will be actually encouraged by this

Jytte Guteland

The chairman of the negotiations, Liberal MEP Pascal Canfin of the Renew Europe group, said finding a middle way was necessary, adding: “The compromise reached is ambitious: we will do 2.5 times more in nine years than we have done in the last 10 years in Europe.”

The EU deal still needs to be officially approved by member countries and the European Parliament, although the action should be little more than a rubber stamp.

Under Mr Biden, the US, the world’s second-biggest polluter after China, has returned to the 2015 Paris climate accord. Participating nations are set to meet at the annual UN climate conference, which is being held in November in Glasgow, to push for ambitious targets.

The EU said it could blaze a trail for Washington with its decision.

“The US is not our big brother on climate. We are the big brother or the big sister. So they will be actually encouraged by this. They will be pressed by this,” said Jytte Guteland, an S&D socialist MEP and rapporteur on the talks. “They will need to deliver when they see what we have accomplished.”

Washington and Brussels are aiming to be carbon neutral by mid-century, a goal scientists say needs to be achieved to keep average global temperatures from rising above 2C by the year 2100.

The Paris accord’s more ambitious target of capping global warming at 1.5C the end of the century compared with pre-industrial times would be likely to require even more drastic worldwide cuts in emissions.

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