Brussels has argued that the Covid-19 emergency should not be a reason to delay or reverse Europe’s environmental goals © Omar Marques/Getty

Brussels wants the EU to significantly accelerate emissions reductions over the next decade as part of the bloc’s goal of becoming the first climate-neutral continent in the world by 2050. 

The European Commission will next week unveil a plan for the EU to hit an emissions reduction target of “at least 55 per cent” by 2030, compared with 1990 levels, according to a draft document seen by the Financial Times. The target is a jump from the current 40 per cent goal and is at the higher end of a 50-55 per cent range that has been under consideration by Brussels. 

The 2030 target is the most immediate milestone EU countries will have to meet as part of Europe’s ambition to hit net zero emissions by 2050. The goal — which is part of the EU’s climate law — will need to be approved by a majority of member states and the European Parliament to come into force. 

This year, the commission chose to delay setting the 2030 target until it had carried out a thorough assessment of the economic impact of higher climate targets. But Brussels in recent months has argued that the Covid-19 crisis should not be a reason to delay or reverse Europe’s environmental ambitions.

“We are not just maintaining our ambitions, but doubling down on the Green Deal. It was our growth strategy, and now it is also our road map out of this crisis,” Frans Timmermans, executive vice-president of the commission, said last week. 

The 55 per cent goal will be announced by Ursula von der Leyen, commission president, next Wednesday as part of her State of the Union speech that lays out Brussels’ major policy priorities. 

According to a document seen by the FT, the commission will lay out three main tools needed to accelerate the green transition: more renewable energy, increased energy efficiency, and a major overhaul of the EU’s emissions trading scheme (ETS) — a cap-and-trade system for polluting industries to buy carbon credits. 

The revamp of the ETS is likely to be among the most politically controversial proposals in the Green Deal. Brussels wants to expand the system to cover the aviation, maritime and automobile industries to increase carbon revenues and help fund €750bn of commission borrowing to fund the recovery. Brussels will publish its proposed ETS reform in the first half of 2021. 

Environmental groups and the Greens in the European Parliament have pushed for the EU to adopt a 65 per cent emissions reduction target for 2030, arguing that it is the minimum required to realistically achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. 

But four eastern European countries — Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic — have warned that Brussels’ impact assessment that underpins the higher 2030 target should be “credible”.

“We are experiencing a global pandemic that will not end soon and there might be others to come,” the four governments wrote in a letter to Mr Timmermans in July.

Anna Zalewska, a Polish MEP from the conservative Law and Justice party, said higher climate targets risked imposing “aggressive and expensive deadlines for EU nations who need to prioritise the welfare of their citizens”. 

Pascal Canfin, a French MEP and head of the parliament’s environment committee, said a majority of the chamber was likely to back a 60 per cent 2030 target to pressure governments to support a higher target. 

“A 55 per cent target is very ambitious but science is asking for more,” he said. “If the parliament moves to 60 per cent this will put pressure on heads of state to agree to at least the 55 per cent.” 

Get alerts on Climate change when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window)

Follow the topics in this article