European Union leaders agreed on new set set of climate goals, which was hailed as a victory in the fight against global warming. Just one problem: the EU goals are not legally binding until a new United Nations climate treaty is approved.
EU leaders agreed to cut carbon dioxide emissions 40 percent and increase energy efficiency and green energy production by 27 percent by 2030 — slightly more aggressive than President Obama’s climate plan.
“It sets Europe on an ambitious, yet cost-effective climate and energy path,” said Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council. “Climate change is one of the biggest challenges of mankind. Ultimately this is about survival. It is the example of a long-term policy.”
French President Francois Hollande hailed the deal, saying it sends a clear message to the international community that the EU is prepared to fight global warming ahead of the UN climate summer meetin in Paris next year.
But here’s the catch: the EU’s climate targets are only proposals laid out as a bargaining chip before next year’s UN summit in Paris. A clause in the EU agreement would trigger a “review” of key climate targets if the UN summit is a dud.
Euractiv notes that the EU’s energy efficiency target will “not legally binding at the national level or EU level” and the green energy goal “is binding at EU-wide level but… it will not be binding at national level.”
Another problem facing the EU’s aggressive climate plan is that poorer member states, mainly in eastern Europe, have to be given special exemptions and subsidies in order to cut carbon dioxide emissions. Countries like Poland and Portugal threatened to veto the plan if they were not given special allowances to stop global warming regulations from crushing their economies.
The UK Guardian reports that coal-reliant Poland “threatened to block the deal unless the costs to its economy and industry were discounted by [$19 billion to $25 billion] between 2020 and 2030, under a complicated system of concessions from the EU’s carbon trading system.”
These concessions to Poland and other low-income EU member states will continue until after 2020 “as long as no comparable efforts are undertaken in other major economies, with the objective of providing appropriate levels of support for sectors at risk of losing international competitiveness,” according to the agreement.
The concessions have only deepened the divide between the pro-climate policy and anti-climate policy blocs of the EU. Environmentalists are angered by the watering down of EU targets, and citizens of rich EU countries now see more regulations coming their way while eastern and southern Europe get to develop their economies.
But not even all rich EU nations were on board with the new climate goals. The UK lobbied to lower the energy efficiency and green energy targets even further, to 25 percent, reports BBC News.
The UK is trying to get companies to extract domestic shale gas to cut down on its reliance on costly oil and gas imports. The country is also struggling with power plant closures due to EU environmental rules and a glut of wind energy, which can’t provide reliable baseload power. UK officials have even hinted that WWII-style energy rationing could be the country’s energy future if they decide to “go green.”
While the deal does send a signal that some EU leaders are keen on making a climate deal, it’s vagueness and flexibility may prove to be its undoing — especially if next year’s UN negotiations yield nothing.
“Europe says it accepts the need to reduce emissions by more than 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. But this new deal leaves future leaders to cut CO2 threefold within 20 years – an effort UN experts say is nigh impossible,” writes BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin.
“Scientists and environmentalists will not be happy — but Europe’s leaders have been under heavy pressure not to impose much higher energy costs, especially when the economy is struggling,” says Harrabin.