U.N. chief presses EU to set tougher climate change target

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday urged the European Union to lead global efforts to slash planet-warming emissions by setting a new climate change target next month.

FILE PHOTO: United Nations Secretary-General designate Antonio Gutterres arrives inside the State Department for a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (not pictured) in Washington, U.S., November 4, 2016. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

Efforts to curb climate change have gathered pace in recent months, as China, Japan and South Korea joined the EU in pledging to eventually become carbon neutral - a commitment President-elect Joe Biden says the United States will also make.

Europe looks likely to be the first large economy to translate its net zero goal into near-term commitments. The bloc’s 27 member countries aim to strike a deal next month on a new 2030 climate target.

“I urge you to continue to lead with concrete and ambitious near-term commitments,” Guterres told the European Council on Foreign Relations by videoconference on Thursday. “It is essential that the European Union commits to reducing emissions by at least 55 per cent by 2030.”

The EU Commission says cutting emissions at least 55% this decade, from 1990 levels, would put the bloc on track to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

The EU’s current 2030 target is a 40% emissions cut.

Guterres said a summit hosted by the U.N. and Britain on Dec. 12 was a “clear opportunity” for the EU to present the new target.

That event will take place one day after EU leaders meet to discuss the climate goal, leaving little wiggle room if they struggle to reach a deal.

Most EU countries support the 55% target, but it needs approval from all 27 states, and Poland has requested more analysis of its economic impact.

Guterres said funds from Europe’s next budget should help protect those affected by the low-carbon shift.

He also called on EU countries to stop financing fossil fuel projects abroad and said richer EU states should stop burning coal this decade - a call to action for Germany, the EU’s biggest coal user and largest economy, which plans to quit the fuel by 2038.

Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by Alex Richardson