Ambitious 2050 climate goal relegated to footnote at EU summit


BRUSSELS (Reuters) – A push by most European Union nations for the world’s biggest economic bloc to go carbon neutral by 2050 was dropped to a footnote at a summit on Thursday after resistance from Poland, the Czech Republic, Estonia and Hungary.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks to the media at the European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, June 20, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman

France and Germany had led efforts for the 28-member EU to lead by example in setting an ambitious new climate goal ahead of U.N. climate talks in September that U.S. President Donald Trump has abandoned.

But unanimity was needed, and last-ditch persuasion efforts failed to ease fears among the four central and eastern European states that it would hurt economies like theirs dependent on nuclear power and coal.

“We couldn’t commit to something without knowing the cost. Nobody was able to present economic calculations to accompany the idea,” said a diplomat from one of the opposing countries.

The final summit conclusion did call on the European Investment Bank (EIB) to increase support for climate action, saying such efforts must preserve competitiveness and account for vast differences in the continent’s energy mix.

But the mid-century climate goal was dropped to a footnote in the final document, reading: “For a large majority of member states, climate neutrality must be achieved by 2050.”

Even that, however, may provide a strong signal to businesses and pave the way for the EU to come back to the discussion later this year.

Since French President Emmanuel Macron in May launched the push for the EU to absorb as much as it emits by 2050,

it had garnered strong support, showing the growing political prominence of the fight against global warming.

“TIME RUNNING OUT”

Months of youth climate protests and bleak warnings from U.N. scientists that more is needed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius helped propel Green parties to their strongest showing yet in May’s European Parliament elections.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on the bloc to aim for a 55% cut by 2030, far more than the bloc’s existing goal of reducing greenhouse gases by 40% from 1990 levels.

But doubts remain even among nations in favor of the 2050 goal over how to pay for the economic shift to low-carbon technology in big employment sectors such as transport, farming and building and remain competitive.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki had warned on arrival at the summit that firmer promises were needed on aid in transforming his nation’s coal-fire economy.

To achieve net-zero emissions, the bloc would have to invest an additional 175 to 290 billion euros ($198-327 billion) per year in clean energy technology, according to an EU projection.

Although the EU is on track to meet its existing pledge under the 2015 Paris accord to curb global warming, campaigners and the EU’s climate chief have warned this is not enough. [L8N23P361]

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On the eve of the summit, Greenpeace activists projected the image of a bomb-shaped earth ready to explode on the facade of the building, warning “time was running out”.

“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. … They blew it,” Greenpeace EU climate policy adviser Sebastian Mang said.

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Additional reporting by Daphne Psaledakis, Gabriela Baczynska, Francesco Guarascio, Jan Strupczewski Sabine Siebold and Michel Rose in Brussels; and Jan Lopatka in Prague; Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel; editing by John Stonestreet, Hugh Lawson and Andrew Cawthorne

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