EU Chiefs Back Tough Emission Goal After Last-Minute Scuffle
Boris Johnson, U.K. prime minister, left, in a car with David Frost, U.K. chief Brexit negotiator, right, as they travel to a dinner with Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, at the Berlaymont building in Brussels, Belgium. (Photographer: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Bloomberg)

EU Chiefs Back Tough Emission Goal After Last-Minute Scuffle

European Union leaders have agreed to more aggressive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade, one year after launching a moonshot Green Deal that led the way for other major economies to raise their climate ambitions.

The decision to cut pollution by at least 55% by 2030, up from 40% previously, was expected. But it helps keep global momentum on the issue going into 2021, when incoming U.S. President Joe Biden plans to re-join the landmark Paris Agreement and set a 2050 net-zero goal. It also gives European leaders a bold new commitment to tout at a global climate meeting on Saturday.

The EU decision was reached at a summit in Brussels that began on Thursday and ran through most of the night as three poorer, fossil-fuel reliant Eastern countries opposed an initial deal, asking for more help to clean up their economies.

Their last-minute pushback shocked western leaders, prompting German Chancellor Angela Merkel to say she was speechless, according to two officials with knowledge of the discussions. “Climate was a nightmare,” said an EU diplomat. “I’ve never seen so many revised versions of one-page conclusions.”

Hungary and the Czech Republic dropped their objections during the night but Poland continued to block the deal until 8 a.m. on Friday. It eventually agreed to the new target after getting assurances that the financial burden will not fall disproportionately on its shoulders. The new target will require an additional 350 billion euros ($424 billion) a year in energy production and infrastructure investment.

EU Chiefs Back Tough Emission Goal After Last-Minute Scuffle

Climate-ambitious western economies, including France, Sweden and the Netherlands, were pushing for a swift agreement on the stricter emission-reduction target before Saturday’s Climate Ambition Summit marking the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement. More than 70 countries are set to announce new commitments, and expectations are high for Chinese President Xi Jinping to build on his pledge that the world’s biggest polluter will be carbon neutral by 2060.

The last EU leaders’ summit of the year turned into a high-stakes meeting where financial aid, climate goals and Brexit collided in ways that have tested Merkel’s talent for finding compromises on the thorniest issues for the bloc. A deal was eventually reached on a massive economic recovery package, but Brexit was still unresolved with just days to go.

The EU is the world’s third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, right behind China and the U.S. Carbon dioxide emissions from Europe have been going down in recent years, largely driven by a reduction in the use of coal, which fell 18% in 2019, according to the Global Carbon Budget for 2020.

EU Chiefs Back Tough Emission Goal After Last-Minute Scuffle

The EU’s new emissions target is part of the Green Deal recovery plan. By 2050, Europe wants to be the world’s first climate-neutral continent. The bloc will formalize its new pledge under the global climate accord at a meeting of environment ministers on Dec. 17.

The 2030 target is key to completing the European Climate Law, legislation that would make binding the Green Deal objective of eliminating greenhouse gases by the middle of the century. National governments and the European Parliament can now proceed with negotiations and shape a draft law by early next year.

Once adopted, the climate law will pave the way for a swath of regulations to implement the green transition. Next year the European Commission plans to propose measures that will strengthen the bloc’s carbon market, bolster rules to boost renewable energy, toughen emissions standards for cars and impose pollution limits on maritime transport.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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