EU countries agree deals on laws to fight climate change

The laws are designed to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by 55 per cent from 1990 levels by 2030. PHOTO: REUTERS

BRUSSELS (REUTERS) - European Union countries struck deals early on Wednesday (Jun 29) on a raft of new climate change policies, including tougher targets to expand renewable energy and a 2035 end to the sale of new fossil fuel-powered cars.

After more than 16 hours of negotiations, environment ministers from the European Union’s 27 member states agreed their joint positions on five laws, part of a broader package of measures to slash planet-warming emissions this decade.

Taken together, the laws are designed to ensure the EU – the world’s third-biggest greenhouse gas emitter – reduces its net emissions by 55 per cent from 1990 levels by 2030.

The agreements struck by ministers from EU countries, at meetings on Monday and Tuesday, will form their joint position for upcoming negotiations with EU Parliament on the final laws.

“The climate crisis and its consequences are clear, and so policy is unavoidable,” EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans said, adding that he thought the invasion of Ukraine by top gas supplier Russia was spurring countries to quit fossil fuels faster.

Countries upheld core parts of the proposals, which the European Commission first proposed last summer and has doubled down on in recent months as a way to cut reliance on Russian fossil fuels by switching to cheaper locally-produced green energy.

But with governments weighing their commitments to protect the planet against other national interests – and a backdrop of soaring inflation – countries moved to weaken some of the green measures.

Here’s what they agreed:

Renewables, energy savings

Energy ministers on Monday agreed laws on more ambitious targets to expand renewable energy and save more power.

Ministers backed targets proposed by Brussels last year to derive 40 per cent of energy from renewable sources and cut consumption by 9 per cent against expected levels by 2030.

Brussels proposed even more ambitious targets last month to cut reliance on Russian fossil fuels, but ministers approved the original proposals and plan to consider the upgraded versions in later negotiations.

Countries weakened other elements of the proposals, however, for example by delaying to 2035 from 2030 a proposed deadline for half of hydrogen used by industry to come from renewable sources, and making curbs on primary energy consumption voluntary, rather than binding.

Carbon market overhaul

Environment ministers on Tuesday clinched agreement on an upgrade of the EU’s carbon market, its main emissions-cutting policy, which forces industry and power plants to buy CO2 permits when they pollute.

Countries accepted core elements of the proposal by the European Commission, which drafts EU laws, including to reduce the supply of permits in the scheme each year by 4.2 per cent – compared with 2.2 per cent today – and phase out free CO2 permits for industries by 2035, but with a more gradual start to the phaseout.

They backed plans to add shipping to the scheme and agreed rules to make it easier for the EU to intervene in response to CO2 price spikes.

New carbon market

Countries eventually rallied behind a new EU carbon market imposing CO2 costs on polluting fuels used in buildings and transport, after long talks on how to shield low-carbon citizens from the measure’s potential costs.

Ministers agreed to delay the launch of the new carbon market by a year, to 2027, and said it should be accompanied by a new 59-billion-euro EU fund to support poorer households, comprised of revenues from CO2 permits sold in the new carbon market.

Clean cars by 2035

EU countries supported the bloc’s proposal for a 100 per cent cut in CO2 emissions from new cars by 2035, which would effectively ban new combustion engine car sales in the EU by that date.

They also asked the European Commission to assess in 2026 whether CO2-neutral fuels and hybrid vehicles can contribute to the 2035 goal.

A push by Italy, Slovakia and other countries to delay the phaseout to 2040 was unsuccessful, but they did win an exemption for small carmakers from tougher CO2 rules until 2035. 

Countries eventually backed a compromise proposed by Germany, the EU’s biggest car market, which kept the 2035 target and asked Brussels to assess in 2026 whether hybrid vehicles or CO2-neutral fuels could comply with the goal.

National emissions targets, carbon sinks

Ministers also supported proposals to upgrade the national targets Brussels sets to cut emissions in sectors, such as transport and buildings, and backed a separate law requiring countries to cultivate forests, wetlands and improve soil health to store more CO2 in natural “carbon sinks”.

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