Delay on Climate Action Exposes Rift Between EU States

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

(CN) – Following a two-day meeting of European Union leaders in Brussels last week, the European Commission delayed a fight about climate change legislation until June after Germany surprisingly defected.

The commission, which acts as the EU’s executive branch, put out a framework in 2018 that aimed to meet the Paris Climate Agreements goals. In December, the commission agreed member states “will provide guidance on the overall direction and political priorities in the first semester of 2019.”

The framework encourages EU member states to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and encourage the development of renewable energy production with the aim of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

The EU’s goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 to 95 percent, compared to 1990 levels, by 2050. Benchmarks along the way include an intermediate goal of reducing emissions by 20 percent by 2020, again from 1990 levels, and 40 percent by 2030.

Other goals include increasing consumption of renewable energy, with a 20 percent increase by 2020 and a 32 percent increase by 2030, as well as increasing energy efficiency by similar amounts in the same time frame.

Each member country must have a national, long-term climate strategy by Jan. 1, 2020. The framework, however, must be approved by national governments of all 28 member states.

Disagreement over climate change rules has traditionally split between Eastern and Western Europe. The former Soviet-bloc states have under-resourced economies, are more heavily dependent on coal and tend to be more resistant to green measures, while their western and northern counterparts have pushed for more aggressive measures. The latest effort is being led by France, which was upset by the failure on Friday.

“We are not responding clearly today to the commitments taken in 2015, to the scientific challenges outlined by the best experts, or to the legitimate impatience of our young people who are demonstrating every week in our capitals and elsewhere,” French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters after the meeting.

Student protests have roiled Europe for weeks, with young people urging politicians to take the issues of climate change seriously. Inspired by Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, tens of thousands of students around the world skipped school on March 15, 2019, to protest inaction on climate change.

According to Sebastian Oberthur, a professor for environment and sustainable development at the Institute for European Studies whose research focuses on environmental governance, the delay wasn’t surprising.

“The focus of the meeting was on Brexit,” he said.

It’s not completely clear why Germany had a chance of policy direction. The far-right party AfD made election gains in the 2017 elections and a plank in the party platform is the claim that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. Chancellor Angela Merkel may be concerned about the impact the framework may have on the German manufacturing sector.

Poland had been leading the opposition to the framework over concerns about its coal usage. The country is the second largest coal mining country in Europe after Germany and gets nearly 75 percent of its electricity from coal.

The European Council meets again on June 20-21 and will discuss the climate change framework again.

“Don’t expect a declaration, but maybe a signal that they are moving toward agreement,” said Oberthur.

It’s also possible the focus on climate matters may be shifted when Finland takes over the EU presidency in July. Finland’s environmental minister Kimmo Tiilikainen told reporters this month that “Finland is prepared to take this work forward during our presidency and we are aiming to reach the council conclusions during that time.”

Sebastian Mang, Greepeace EU climate policy adviser, warned EU lawmakers to make it happen.

“Millions of people across Europe are demanding action to respond to the climate emergency. Governments have nowhere to hide,” Mang said.

%d bloggers like this: