Eastern states sceptical of deeper greenhouse gas cuts at EU talks

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary expressed scepticism ahead of talks on Wednesday over the EU’s new target for sharper cuts in greenhouse gas emissions this decade, setting the stage for difficult negotiations over the bloc’s environmental goals.

FILE PHOTO: European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium August 21, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman

The EU’s executive commission wants to cut greenhouse gases by at least 55% from 1990 levels this decade, a more ambitious target than the 40% cut it now has planned.

Experts say the bigger cut is the minimum needed to meet a longer term goal of climate neutrality by 2050, doing Europe’s part to avert global climate catastrophe.

But eastern states are wary of being forced to bear the cost of an expensive transition sought by richer western and northern countries. Poland has a large coal industry, while the Czech and Hungarian economies rely on energy-intensive manufacturing.

Environment ministers met to discuss the 2030 target on Wednesday in Brussels. Officials from the three eastern holdout countries said they had not relented on their positions. If the decision goes to the leaders of the 27-member bloc, it would require unanimity.

“It’s widely known that we have been refusing this on a long-term basis,” a Czech official said, adding that Prague maintains its “sceptical opposition” to the 55% target.

An official from Poland said a more detailed breakdown of how the target would affect each country and sector was needed before any agreement could be struck.

Hungary said any new EU goal should require all member states to cut their national emissions by at least 40% by 2030, with financial penalties for laggards, a condition not included in the Commission’s proposal.

German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze, who chairs Wednesday’s talks, acknowledged that a tougher 2030 target would be “an enormous challenge” for some countries.

“I think that there are very good arguments for the ‘at least 55%’ reduction target from the EU,” she said.

Officials from Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, Spain, Austria and Croatia told Reuters they support cutting emissions by at least 55%.

The Commission proposal includes a lengthy analysis showing the goal will require vast changes to all sectors, but says it is ultimately economically achievable.

Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by Peter Graff