Negotiators from the European Commission, Parliament and Council struck a deal on the energy union governance regulation after an all-night session where they agreed to aim for a net-zero economy “as early as possible,” with a carbon budget and national strategies for 2050.
The talks concluded shortly after 04:30 in the morning after kicking off the evening before at around 21:00.
The Parliament entered the negotiation with a “red line” – an objective to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, where carbon emissions and removals would balance each other out.
This is in line with the Paris Agreement, which stipulates that global emissions have to reach net-zero in “the second half of this century”.
Any country resisting an EU-wide objective to reduce emissions to net-zero by mid-century is essentially “in the same camp as Mr. Trump” when it comes to climate change, says Claude Turmes, the lead European Parliament negotiator on the Energy Union governance proposal.
A net-zero carbon economy “as early as possible”
But Parliament negotiators had to give some ground there, faced with reluctant member states. According to the agreed final wording, the EU will aim for a net-zero carbon economy “as early as possible”.
“The Commission and Council were against mentioning a date,” said Claude Turmes, a Green MEP from Luxembourg who was the lead negotiator for the Parliament.
“It is irresponsible that member states try to shy away from their own homework” on meeting the Paris goals, said Roland Joebstl, from the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), an NGO.
“Any delay in implementing the Paris Agreement creates further liabilities for future generations,” he added.
Miguel Arias Cañete, the EU Commissioner for climate action, seemed happy with the compromise and celebrated on Twitter what he described as “a hat trick” following the agreement on the renewable energy directive last week and energy efficiency yesterday (19 June).
National decarbonisation plans for 2050
Under the agreement, the Commission will have to put forward a proposal by 1 April 2019 to design a 2050 EU strategy for greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, with an analysis taking account of two things:
- The remaining “carbon budget” at global and EU level in order to keep global warming “well below 2°C” and close to 1.5°C; and
- Scenarios for the EU’s contribution towards the objective of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 and negative emission afterwards.
The Commission analysis will be published after the IPCC issues its special report on how to meet the 1.5°C warming target, which is expected in the Autumn.
The EU executive has already started work on an update of its 2050 low-carbon energy roadmap but uncertainties remained about the scope of the exercise. It is now clear that the net-zero objective will have to be part of that assessment.
Commission officials are expected to work through the summer break to get the strategy completed by the end-of-year climate change conference in Katowice, Poland, in December.
Crucially, Turmes explained, EU member states will have to present long-term decarbonisation strategies for 2050, in parallel with the 2030 plans they have already committed to prepare at national level.
National capitals will have to present National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs) for 2030 by 31 December 2018. “And by end 2019, governments will have to present both 2030 and 2050 plans,” Turmes told EURACTIV, saying that was something additional that Parliament requested, and obtained.
“There was a major inconsistency in terms of timing and we corrected that,” he said.
EU leaders have urged the European Commission to come forward with a 2050 climate strategy “by the first quarter of 2019”, ending speculation over the timing of the proposal.
“Gap-filler” for renewables and efficiency
The governance regulation also sets a “trajectory” for member states contribution to meeting the EU-wide objective of 32% renewable energy by 2030.
Under the deal, the 28 member states will collectively have to achieve 18% of the EU-wide renewable energy objective by 2022, 43% by 2025, and 65% by 2027 before reaching 100% of the objective in 2030.
“As soon as a country is not on track, the European Commission can intervene” and ask for measures to be adopted at national level, Turmes explained, saying “This will reduce the free-riding effect” where some countries do little on renewables and rely on others to fill the gap.
A similar gap-filler mechanism was agreed for energy efficiency, with the same intermediary reference years as for renewables: 2022, 2025 and 2027.
The big difference there is that the evaluation of the gap is left to the discretion of the European Commission, which will also largely decide on policy initiatives to fill the gap – such as eco-design measures, labelling and CO2 standards in cars or buildings.
“We will able to assess politically whether Europe is on track or not,” Turmes said, adding the gap-filler mechanism for energy efficiency was a victory for the European Parliament, along with the agreed definition of the “Efficiency First” principle, which now has to be included in national plans when making decisions on new infrastructure.
“We have a definition of efficiency first. And in national plans governments have to show how they prioritise energy efficiency in infrastructure investments and networks,” Turmes said.
EU negotiators finally signed off on new energy efficiency rules Tuesday evening (19 June), as Bulgaria’s EU Presidency wrapped up another clean energy file. But some of the concessions made by MEPs have already provoked criticism.
Tensions over decision-making
At the end of the day, the Luxembourg MEP said Parliament had “won everything” except for the explicit reference to the 2050 date to achieve net-zero carbon emissions.
This, he said, reflects disagreements over who should decide on climate and energy policy at EU level. While Parliament believes it has to be fully integrated in the decision-making process, Turmes said the Council and – surprisingly – the European Commission disagreed.
“I believe that the EU treaties are clear on this,” Turmes told EURACTIV. “Energy and climate objectives are decided by a qualified majority but the Council and Commission believe it should be the member states”.
“One day, the European Court of Justice will have to clarify this,” Turmes suggested, saying he felt the European parliament was being “robbed” of decision-making powers on energy and climate policy that it hods “de facto”.
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