EU environment ministers met last week to discuss and upgrade a variety of climate goals – just one day after a scathing International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on what will happen to the world should global warming continue unabated.
The IPCC report, released October 8, informed that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate, the atmosphere will heat up by as much as 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2040, and this will create intense damage via rising coastlines, worsening droughts, and increased poverty. Previous work, and the basis for the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, focused on warming of 2 degrees Celsius. However, scientists working on the report stress that the negative effects will come sooner than previously expected. Thus, anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions must fall by approximately 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero around 2050, to prevent 1.5 degrees of warming.
“The Council of the European Union … is deeply concerned by the new evidence on the negative impacts of climate change that are unequivocally confirmed by the latest scientific findings reported by the [IPCC]”, the EU environment ministers said in a statement following their meeting last week. “It is a matter of extreme urgency to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty”.
In this vein, EU environment ministers have adopted a number of conclusions on climate change, sending a strong political signal as to the seriousness of this environmental issue and the need to ramp up efforts to combat these potentially disastrous outcomes ahead of the COP24 climate conference in Katowice, Poland this December. Ministers reaffirmed the EU’s commitment to the Paris agreement, highlighting recent legislation that aims at emissions reduction – including the increased EU 2030 renewable energy target of 32 per cent, the new energy efficiency target of 32.5 per cent, and the reform of the EU emission trading system.
The new IPCC data did not spur ministers to increase their emissions reduction pledge under the Paris climate accord, which is to reduce greenhouse gases by at least 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030. However, they did agree to stricter CO2 emission standards for passenger cars and light commercial vehicles: the average CO2 emissions for new passenger cars will need to be 15 per cent lower in 2025 and 35 per cent lower in 2030, compared to the emission limits valid in 2021. Similar figures are applicable to light commercial vehicles. European Council, Commission and Parliament representatives will negotiate a final set of rules on vehicle emissions that will be part of a long-term climate strategy for 2050, which is scheduled to be announced at the end of November.
Environment ministers also held their first-ever policy debate on regulating CO2 emissions for heavy-duty vehicles, proposing CO2 emissions reduction targets for new trucks, buses and lorries. Still, nothing is set in stone on this front just yet.
The final major outcome from last week’s meeting was an adoption of conclusions on biodiversity. While ministers noted the progress that has been made toward the EU’s biodiversity goals this decade, they also expressed deep concern over “the natural resource base and ecosystem services that humanity demands upon”, saying these are at “high risk” and that pressures driving biodiversity loss – including climate change – continue to increase.
Representatives from all seven southern EU member states participated in the meeting – including two from France. These nations have consistently been stalwarts of climate change action. Spain, who was represented at the meeting by Teresa Ribera, the country’s Minister for Ecological Transition and a well-known climate activist, has advocated for a more stringent 2030 renewable energy target of 35 per cent, compared to the recently agreed upon 32 per cent goal. Portugal and Italy have also advocated for this higher target.
France, under President Emmanuel Macron’s leadership, has committed itself to ending fossil fuel production, pledging to shut all coal power plants in the country by 2023 and setting aside seven billion euros to accelerate the development of its renewable energy industry – with additional funds directed at improved energy efficiency and cleaner vehicle manufacturing.
Greece’s new energy strategy aims to increase the share of renewables in the country’s energy mix to 50 per cent by 2030; Malta has promoted renewables through a feed-in tariff, encouraging solar production with rooftop photovoltaics; and Cyprus’s recent offshore gas discoveries promise to be a cleaner alternative to coal and oil.
The Council of the European Union, “recognises the IPCC conclusions that emission reductions in all sectors, transition in energy, urban, land and industrial systems and changes in human behaviour are crucial to limit global warming”, said the EU environment ministers in their statement, acknowledging that “further action is needed in mitigation and adaptation to achieve the climate resilient development pathways that can limit climate change, while adapting to its consequences, reducing vulnerability and achieving sustainable development”.