Overall ambition of EU climate proposals too low - loopholes risk further weakening | WWF

Overall ambition of EU climate proposals too low - loopholes risk further weakening

Posted on 20 July 2016
Pasterze Glacier lies in the Hohe Tauern mountain range of the Austrian Alps.
Pasterze Glacier lies in the Hohe Tauern mountain range of the Austrian Alps.
© Michèle DÉPRAZ / WWF

Key European Commission climate proposals published today, covering 60% of EU greenhouse gas emissions, do not adequately reflect the EU’s international Paris pledge to keep global warming well below 2 °C, and to pursue efforts to limit the rise to 1.5 °C. Instead, the proposals introduce flexibility measures which would allow Member States to avoid taking necessary action. For example, Member States can transfer cheap carbon credits across from the Emissions Trading System and use carbon-absorbing forests to count towards their emissions reduction goal.​

“Not only is the Commission astoundingly out-of-synch with international climate commitments, but it has also included ‘loopholes’ in this proposal which will allow countries to cheat their way out of real climate action,” commented Imke Lübbeke, Head of Climate and Energy at the WWF European Policy Office. “It seems baffling that the Commission can so quickly ignore the Paris Agreement and its temperature goals, especially since Climate Commissioner Arias Cañete has been openly endorsing 1.5°C as the temperature threshold to aim for.”

“Europeans want climate action: it is now up to their political representatives, MEPs and Member States, to put the “effort” back into “Effort-Sharing Decision” by closing the loopholes and introducing a five-yearly review that increases ambition over time, in line with Paris”, added Lübbeke.

In October 2014, EU heads of state agreed to cut emissions by “at least” 40% by 2030 in order to reach 90-95% reductions by 2050. WWF criticised these targets for being far too weak and putting the fight against climate change at risk.

Note to the editor:

What is the ESD?

The ESD regulates transport, buildings and agriculture emissions – among other smaller sectors – which account for the 60% of EU greenhouse gas emissions that are not covered by the Emission Trading System (ETS). At the October 2014 European Summit, EU heads of state agreed to reduce emissions from these sectors by 30%.

Today’s proposal was published as part of the Commission’s Energy Union ‘summer package’, which also included a proposal for a decision to address greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and LULUCF and a Communication for the decarbonisation of transport.

What are the loopholes?

Counting carbon removed by forests towards climate targets. The land use, land use change, and forestry (LULUCF) sector removes more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases, and is therefore a ‘net sink’ for carbon. Some countries want carbon removals from forests and land use to count towards their emissions reduction efforts and thereby reduce the effort they have to make to cut emissions in ESD sectors, such as agriculture, surface transport and buildings. The Commission’s proposal would allow Member States to use up to 280 million tonnes of carbon credits from deforested land, afforested land, managed cropland and managed grassland to offset a lack of action in other sectors.

Calculating 2030 targets based on higher emissions levels. The overall ESD 2030 target is broken down into national targets, or ‘carbon budgets’. However, these national carbon budgets for the post-2020 period can be calculated using different starting points. The Commission’s proposal determines these starting points based on average emissions for 2016-2018.

Using ETS allowances in the ESD. EU leaders agreed in 2014 that some countries could use a limited number of emission allowances from the EU’s Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) to meet their national ESD targets. The Commission’s proposal allows a total of 100 million EU ETS allowances to be counted towards national targets in Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Austria, Finland and Sweden.

Since the EU ETS is likely to remain oversupplied until at least 2030, the transfer of surplus ETS allowances would not lead to less pollution in the ETS sector. Even worse, this transfer would take advantage of the vast oversupply of ETS pollution permits and their low price, delaying action to cut emissions from the non-ETS sectors, and leading to more pollution in the EU up to 2030.

Next steps

The proposal passes to the EU Parliament and Council for discussion; the  Environment Council will discuss the proposal at their October meeting.

A final decision is expected by the end of 2017.