EU climate law talks dodge the 'elephant in the room'

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union negotiators inched on Tuesday toward agreeing parts of the bloc’s landmark climate law, but not the binding emissions-cutting targets that would form the centrepiece of the bill, EU lawmakers and officials said.

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

The planned law is the backbone of the EU’s plan to become “climate neutral” by 2050. It will set legally-binding goals to cut emissions and oblige the European Commission to regularly review them based on the latest climate science.

The bill needs approval from the European Parliament and the 27 EU member states, who are attempting to agree the final text by the end of June.

Negotiators on Tuesday came close to agreeing parts of the law that would force the EU to set an emissions-cutting target for 2040, and require member states to create plans to cope with climate-related impacts such as increased heatwaves and drought, according to EU lawmakers and officials.

However, the biggest issues remain untouched.

The climate law will include the EU’s target to reach net zero emissions by 2050, which EU countries say is a joint effort, but the European Parliament wants it to be binding on every EU state.

EU countries also agreed in December to cut their net emissions by at least 55% by 2030, from 1990 levels. Parliament wants a 60% cut.

EU member governments say the law must reflect their position on the targets, since they were already approved by leaders of the 27 EU states at fraught political summits.

“The question is how realistic the European Parliament will be,” an EU official said.

“We have an elephant in the room,” said Jytte Guteland, the parliament’s lead lawmaker on the bill.

“To have central parts...where the presidency can say that we don’t have the mandate to move, that’s an obstacle,” she said, referring to Portugal, which currently presides over EU countries’ meetings and drafts their negotiating position.

A draft compromise proposal by Portugal seen by Reuters also labels as “not acceptable” the European Parliament’s call for the climate law to require EU countries to phase out fossil fuel subsidies and create a “carbon budget” of the total emissions the EU could produce without thwarting its climate goals.

Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by Mark Heinrich