Discussions between European Union leaders on a new emissions reduction target for 2030 were sidetracked today by the crisis in Ukraine.
A debate that was meant to set the stage for agreement on a new target instead became focused on reducing Europe’s energy dependence on Russia.
Last month, the European Commission put forward a proposal to set a 2030 target of 40% emissions reduction from 1990 levels. It wanted a quick agreement, by the June European Council at the latest, so that the EU could go to a UN summit in September with a pledge for a globally binding UN deal.
A new global deal is supposed to be agreed in Paris at the end of 2015. An early pledge by Europe could spur other global powers to come forward with pledges in the following months, increasing the chances of a successful outcome in Paris next year.
But today’s discussions were dominated by the issue of energy independence, and leaders who had pushed for early agreement emerged from the Council acknowledging that the plan for agreement in June is now impossible. “At the European level we are facing a tough discussion,” said Werner Faymann, the chancellor of Austria. “For that reason we’ve agreed to discuss in June and to set a line by October for next year’s [Paris] conference.”
The issue of climate targets has divided member states. Western European member states generally support the 40% proposal and want the pledge to be backed quickly. But most central and eastern European member states, led by Poland, are dubious. The Council conclusions say an agreement on 2030 targets will be reached in October. Poland was pushing for this to say “by the end of the year”. Poland was also pushing for the conclusions to say that the EU could rescind its offer if other industrial powers do not make similar commitments, but it did not win this battle.
The diplomatic crisis with Russia was being used by both sides to justify either action or inaction. The UK was trying to convince Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic that setting targets will spur investment in domestic energy sources. But these countries are concerned that the targets will increase dependence on Russian energy because it would make it difficult for them to use what little domestic energy sources they have – mainly coal and shale gas.
The conclusions adopted today call on the European Commission to come forward by June with a roadmap toward European energy independence. The central and eastern European countries insisted that only after this roadmap has been reviewed can discussions on 2030 targets take place. But the EU already has an energy roadmap to 2050, which was endorsed by member states two years ago. This roadmap already lays out ways to achieve energy independence.
Environmental campaigners and some businesses expressed exasperation that national leaders did not seem to see the issues of the 2030 targets and energy independence as being related. “Energy security is at the top of everyone’s agenda at the moment,” said Susanna Williams of green group EEB. “Yet the Council continues to drag its feet, an inappropriate course of action to say the least when time is so clearly of the essence.”
Some business leaders said the delay will add more uncertainty to the EU’s climate and energy policies. “EU heads of state and government should reach a final decision on a 2030 package in June – not October,” said Martin Schoenberg of Climate Change Capital, an environmental investment management and advisory group. “To investors, this will send a renewed signal of high-level political commitment. It will unlock additional investment that can speed up Europe’s recovery and upgrade aging infrastructure.”
It is expected that the Commission will try to push the 2030 targets as part of the energy independence roadmap, and it may include a push for energy efficiency measures as part of this document.
Connie Hedegaard, the European commissioner for climate action, said she welcomed that the conclusions say that a decision will be taken “no later than” October – an improvement from the Polish draft, which said by the end of the year. Hedegaard said that the aims of emissions reduction and energy independence “must go hand-in-hand”.
“With the Commission’s proposal as the base, Europe is now moving forward towards agreeing on the whole package by October,” she said.
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