EU President Demands Higher Emissions Reduction Target In Final State Of The Union
Addressing the European Parliament for his final ‘State of the European Union’ speech, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned of the coming calamity of climate change.
In light of the heat wave and wild fires in Europe this summer, he urged the lawmakers to support an ambitious EU emissions reduction target of 45% for 2030, saying it is both “scientifically right and politically necessary.”
This would be higher than the 40% reduction (from 1990 levels) agreed by all 28 national leaders in the European Union in 2014. But over the past year, 14 of the 28 countries have said new data and Europe’s alarming heat wave this summer mean the target should be raised to 45%. These countries include France, Luxembourg and The Netherlands.
But after intense pressure from German industry, Chancellor Angela Merkel has come out against the idea, saying it is ill-advised “because many member states today do not comply with what they have already promised.”
“We should first reach the goals we have already set. I don’t think that constantly setting new targets makes sense.”
Juncker, whose five-year term as Commission President ends next year, said in his annual address to the European Parliament that the higher target is needed – putting him on a collision course with Merkel. “We as Europeans want to leave a cleaner planet for future generations,” he told the chamber. “The terrible events of this summer have brought home — not just to farmers — the importance of our efforts to safeguard the future of our coming generations.”
Climate Disappearing From The Agenda
However, though Juncker’s words might have sounded ambitious, the reality is that this state of the union contained far less new European action against climate change than speeches in the past. In fact, it didn’t contain anything new.
Juncker’s energy chief, Miguel Arias Cañete, already confirmed last month that the Commission will put forward a 45% target proposal. He said that with new EU laws due to shortly take effect, the 45% target will be reached anyway.
The new laws, more ambitious than what was envisioned in 2014, will require an increase in energy efficiency of 32.5% and a 32% share of renewable energy by 2030.
In effect, Juncker is proposing a target that’s going to happen whether the legislation is changed or not. And he was preaching to the choir – there is no doubt that the Parliament will support the 45% target (in fact, they want to see a 55% target).
Juncker’s speech was more notable for what it didn’t contain.
“On climate change, this speech lacked concrete new announcements,” says Wendel Trio, director of campaign group Climate Action Network Europe. “President Juncker has recognized that climate change is already wreaking havoc in Europe, but failed to acknowledge that to protect its citizens the EU needs to significantly scale up its climate action.
“The new energy targets which translate into 45% emission cuts by 2030 are only the starting point for the real discussion on how to put the EU on a Paris-compatible pathway,” he adds. “It was disappointing that he has failed to outline the Commission’s plans for the new long-term climate strategy, which needs to include a clear commitment to reduce emissions to net zero well before 2050 and to keep temperature rise to 1.5°C.”
The Commission has been tightlipped about its plan for a long-term emissions reduction pathway to 2050, expected to be announced before the next UN climate summit in December, this year held in Poland. Stakeholders and European lawmakers, both at EU and national level, had hoped to see Juncker announce the strategy in his state of the union speech.
Instead, Juncker used his speech to focus on the geopolitical threats facing the European Union from East and West – such as trade threats from America and military threats from Russia. It reflected just how much climate change is falling off the global agenda in the face of a deteriorating geopolitical and security situation.
With tensions so high over dangers faced in the immediate moment, policymakers have had less time to think about a catastrophe that will be faced in 50 years’ time – even when the first effects of climate change are being felt today.