EU group votes to extend emissions cuts beyond far end of range

Parliament's environment committee surprises with 60% goal; Timmermans reaches out to young Europeans for reaction

By Daniel Byrne and Elizabeth Hearst

DUBLIN (Callaway Climate Insights) — The European Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety voted Thursday for an ambitious 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions on the continent by 2030, in a groundbreaking vote that went beyond even the rosiest expectations.

Pascal Canfin, chair of the Environment Committee tweeted that “never had such an ambitious goal” been decided upon. He added that the EU’s actions will result in “pulling everyone up” to these ambitions after these amendments to the EU climate law. Commentators expected the vote to deliver a 55% reduction but the MEPs decided that was not enough and voted for the more ambitious 60% reduction.

The vote extended Europe’s lead over the U.S. and Asia in pushing reductions to emissions, even as economic difficulties from the Covid-19 pandemic reset budgets and forced individual governments to reweigh priorities.

It was an upset for German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze, who must oversee the tricky negotiations among EU countries who had earlier said there “are very good arguments for an ambitious goal of 55%.” The alternative — 40% compared to 1990 — “isn’t enough,” said Schulze, who hails from the Social Democrats.

The EU is now locked into a process of slashing emissions, no matter the outcome of the U.S. elections in November. However, in China and other big GHG emitting countries, all eyes are on who takes the White House — before they decide whether to increase climate reduction goals.

The influential European Parliament committee also voted to impose financial sanctions on countries that “do not respect their climate commitments.”

The vote follows plans by vice president of the European Commission and spokesperson for the European Green Deal Frans Timmermans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the original 40% goal to a target of 50% to 55% in comparison with 1990 emission levels. 

The EU Climate Law is commonly referred to as the centerpiece of the European Green Deal, which is tantamount to the EU’s ambitions of being carbon neutral by 2050. Before the vote, Swedish MEP Fredrick Federley stressed that “the current strategy is delivering,” but added that the “objectives are too low.” He said that the EU should increase its ambitions in relation to climate change. 

Similarly, Greek MEP of the European United Left, Petros Kokkalis said that deliberate and urgent action was necessary to combat climate change. He added: “The more that we adapt now, the less we pay tomorrow.” 

Greenpeace said the move was a “step closer to what is needed to achieve the goal of the Paris agreement to limit global heating to 1.5℃.” Greenpeace’s EU climate policy adviser Sebastian Mang added that this vote “is the first sign that European politicians are moving away from what is politically easy towards what is scientifically necessary.” 

The environment committee also supported the requirement for the European Commission to table a proposal for its 2040 climate target, the creation of a European climate change council of scientists and the phasing out of all direct and indirect fossil fuel subsidies by 2025. 

Timmermans opened an online dialogue with young people from across Europe to discuss the vote. He tweeted: “what we do in the next 10 year to tackle climate change will have a huge impact on young Europeans,” and added that he will present their findings next week. 

The coalition for Green parties across Europe tweeted that this bill will have to be voted on and debated during the next plenary sessions in October. They added that “we’ve got to keep up the pressure for climate ambition.”

(Dan Byrne is a correspondent based in Dublin, covering climate and finance matters. He is a graduate of Dublin City University and previously worked in communications and fundraising for NGOs, He recently covered the 2020 Irish General Election for state broadcaster RTE.)

(Elizabeth Hearst is a journalist based in Ireland and a graduate of Dublin City University's Masters of Journalism. She has interned with the Racing Post — the UK and Ireland's top horse-racing newspaper. She has worked for the National Broadcaster RTE at the Irish General Election).