Germany will join a growing push for an EU-wide target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, increasing the odds that EU leaders could formally agree to the goal this week, according to EU officials.
The European Commission proposed last year that the bloc adopt a mid-century net zero emissions goal, meaning the EU would absorb as much greenhouse gases as it emits. Member country leaders are set to discuss the bloc’s long-term climate strategy at a European Council summit Thursday. The EU’s current goal is to cut emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030, and efforts to increase that target have failed.
Germany, along with several Central European countries, was previously wary of backing the 2050 climate neutrality goal over concerns it could hurt jobs and economic competitiveness. Berlin did not express support for the goal at a meeting of EU leaders in Romania last month.
But Chancellor Angela Merkel is under growing political pressure at home to do more to cut emissions and meet climate targets; and last week the government issued a position paper supporting the target, according to officials.
Berlin’s backing adds to growing pressure for the EU to adopt the goal. France is spearheading an alliance of countries that want to get the bloc to make the commitment ahead of a U.N. climate summit in September.
The group — originally made up of eight largely Northern and Western EU members — has grown to more than 16, including Latvia, Slovenia, Malta, Cyprus, Greece and Italy, according to officials. The U.K. government on Tuesday also announced it would put the net zero emissions goal into law, one of Theresa May’s final moves before leaving her post as prime minister.
Still, draft Council conclusions, dated June 11 and seen by POLITICO, do not commit countries to the goal, Instead, they adopt more cautious language, calling for the EU to “advance work on the conditions, the incentives and the enabling framework to be put in place to support the fair transition to a climate-neutral EU.”
But officials and observers now hope Germany’s shift could sway Eastern European countries to follow suit. The new German position is a “really big thing,” one European diplomat said, adding that it raises pressure on those wary of the 2050 target.
“It will become more difficult to resist pressure if you not only have [French President Emmanuel] Macron, and also Merkel” supporting the goal, the diplomat said.
According to officials, Bulgaria and Poland “openly” expressed their opposition to the 2050 goal at an ambassadors’ meeting last week. European Council conclusions need unanimous support to be adopted, but that doesn’t mean a deal is impossible.
EU officials said countries could be swayed if their support is part of a broader package, including financial incentives, which they can sell to voters back home. Another EU official said the position of resisting countries was to “show me the money first.”
Environmental campaigners are quietly confident that the EU will adopt a 2050 goal ahead of a crucial U.N. summit aimed at spurring governments to ramp up their emission cuts under the Paris Agreement.
“The dominoes are falling … Germany now needs to play an active role to bring all remaining countries on board,” said Sebastian Mang, climate policy adviser with Greenpeace EU. “But to avert climate breakdown and safeguard the EU’s global leadership, European leaders need to show that they are also prepared to boost existing 2030 targets.”
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, who will host the September 23 summit, has also urged the EU to step up its climate goals. He said in a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk, dated May 23 and seen by POLITICO, that the EU must commit to increasing its emission reduction efforts by 2030, “while aiming at a target of 55 percent reductions in emissions.”
Guterres added he would also “welcome” the EU adopting a long-term vision for a “carbon-neutral economy by 2050.”
“I am counting on you, once again, to demonstrate the leadership of the European Union,” Guterres said.
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