EU ministers to agree to make climate neutrality by 2050 binding

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU environment ministers are set to agree this week to make the bloc’s pledge to be climate neutral by 2050 legally binding, although tough questions about how deeply to cut emissions over the next decade will be left to leaders to discuss in December.

FILE PHOTO: European Union's flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium October 15, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman

The bloc, which takes big decisions by consensus among its 27 member states, is inching its way towards tighter emissions goals in time for a year-end deadline under the Paris climate agreement to spell out targets for 2030.

Its longer term goal is net zero emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases by 2050, which the executive European Commission says will drive the economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis, as countries invest in renewable energy, electric cars and other technologies.

Over the next decade, the Commission wants to cut emissions by at least 55% from 1990 levels. But some countries, especially those that burn coal, want more guarantees that the economic burden of the transformation will be shared.

Leaders agreed at a summit last week to gather more information on how the new target will affect individual countries - a key demand of coal-heavy Poland - before trying to reach a deal in December on the 2030 target.

Meanwhile, environment ministers will attempt on Friday to agree the rest of the law to make emissions-cutting goals legally binding. That would let them start negotiations with the European Parliament, which must approve it.

A draft proposal for the law, as a basis for Friday’s talks, would set the 2050 net zero emissions target as a goal for the EU as a whole, rather than for individual countries, potentially letting some have higher emissions if others make deeper cuts.

This sets up a tussle with European lawmakers who want to make the target binding on each country.

Parliament also wants an independent scientific council to advise the EU on climate policy, and a carbon budget to set out the total emissions Europe could emit in future, proposals excluded from the draft.

“We are ready” for the negotiations to start, said Michael Bloss, a member of the European Parliament from Germany.

Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by John Chalmers and Peter Graff