EU leaders had hoped to commit all the union’s member states to going carbon neutral by 2050 at a summit in Brussels, but in the end only 25 out of 28 countries were on-board.
Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic all refused to support writing the target into the EU’s strategic programme for 2019-24. The plan was supported by Brussels and had gathered significant momentum in recent weeks.
A planned reference to the 2050 target to reduce emissions to net zero was removed from the summit’s draft conclusions following the meeting. Instead, a footnote was added, with an explanation that “for a large majority of member states, climate neutrality must be achieved by 2050”.
The rejection of the target is a blow to the implementation of the Paris Agreement, which aims keep the global temperature increase to well below 2C and pursue efforts to keep it to 1.5C.
Efforts to meet the EU target could make a comeback at a later date: the rotating EU presidency, which set the agenda at summits like this week’s is passing to Finland later this month. Finland’s government is keen on fighting climate change, and recently committed itself to an even more ambitious target of decarbonising its economy by an earlier date, 2035. However, the chance to include it in the EU’s strategic agenda has been missed.
Environmental groups reacted angrily to the news, and called on EU leaders to hold an emergency summit to agree the policy ahead of a key UN climate change meeting in the autumn.
“Hollow words can’t rebuild a house flattened in a mudslide or repay a farmer who’s lost their harvest to drought,” Greenpeace EU climate policy adviser Sebastian Mang said.
“Merkel and Macron failed to convince Poland and bring others on board. With people on the streets demanding action and warnings from scientists that the window to respond is closing fast, our governments had a chance to lead from the front and put Europe on a rapid path to full decarbonisation. They blew it.”
Increasing numbers of member states swung behind the 2050 target in recent weeks, and the support from the 25 countries represents a significant increase on the just eight who supported the move back in March.
A watered down version of the text however failed to ultimately bring the final opposed member states on-side.
“We cannot agree, for now,” Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said ahead of the meeting, arguing that his country needs more EU cash to help convert its economy away from coal power generation.
Czech prime minister Andrej Babis added: “Why should we decide 31 years ahead of time what will happen in 2050?”
Embarrassingly, Poland – one of the hold-out member states which blocked the target – hosted the last UN climate change, COP24, in November. That conference was held in Katowice, Poland’s coal capital – and was used as an opportunity by the country’s right-wing government to lobby in favour of coal and other fossil fuels.
Both Hungary and Poland have right-wing populist governments, while the Czech republic is led by a populist liberal-conservative outfit.
Climate change has soared up the European political agenda in recent months following widespread protests, including continent-wide school strikes and actions by the Extinction Rebellion group. Green parties also make significant gains at the European elections at the end of May.
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