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March 12, 2020
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European Climate Law: net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050?

On 4 March 2020 the European Commission submitted the proposal for the Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing the framework for achieving climate neutrality and amending Regulation (EU) 2018/1999 (“Climate Law”).

The Climate Law stipulates the goal set in the European Green Deal, a set of policies recently announced by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, for Europe’s economy and society to become climate-neutral by 2050. In other words, EU member states as a whole would need to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions, primarily through reduction of emissions, investment in green technologies and environmental protection.

Legally binding target

The Climate Law will set a legally binding target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Therefore, EU institutions and member states will be obliged to take the appropriate measures at EU and national level, respectively, to meet this target. Consequently, any emissions would have to be offset by greenhouse-gas uptake, for instance by trees or carbon capture and storage technologies.

On the occasion of the adoption of the Climate Law, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stated: “I see the climate transition as a huge opportunity for Europe – to get the first mover advantage. I know what European businesses are capable of. I know by experience that we are a continent of innovators and of pioneers and entrepreneurs. This Climate Law will set in stone Europe's position as a climate leader on the global stage.”

Progress monitoring systems

The Climate Law will, among other things, set the long-term direction of travel for meeting the 2050 climate-neutrality objective through all policies, in a socially-fair and cost-efficient manner.

Moreover, it will create a system including measures for monitoring progress which will be reviewed every 5 years in line with the Paris Agreement and assess the need to take further actions. The existing systems include the governance process for member states’ National Energy and Climate Plans, consistent reports by the European Environment Agency, and the latest scientific evidence on climate change.

Hence, it will provide predictability for investors and other economic actors. Importantly, the Climate Law may ensure that the transition to climate neutrality is irreversible, by addressing the required actions to achieve the 2050 target.

You can find the complete Commission proposal for the European Climate Law here.

Impact assessment

By 2021, upon completion and on the basis of a comprehensive impact assessment, the Commission will propose a new EU target for 2030 greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and the corresponding provisions of the Climate Law will be amended accordingly.

In addition, the European Commission proposes the adoption of a 2030-2050 EU -wide trajectory for greenhouse gas emission reductions, to measure progress and give predictability to public authorities, businesses and citizens. However, by 2023, and every five years thereafter, the Commission will assess the consistency of EU and national measures with the climate-neutrality objective and said trajectory.

Commission powers

The Commission will be empowered to issue Recommendations to member states whose actions are inconsistent with the objective of the Climate Law, and member states will be required to proceed accordingly or justify their reasoning if they fail to do so.

Therefore, the Climate Law would give far-reaching power to the Commission to draw the course of EU action on climate change. It is anticipated that the Commission may find significant resistance from certain member states that would oppose some of the measures, therefore the current draft should be subject to further significant amendments.

Public input

It is of utmost importance that all relevant stakeholders continue to participate open and transparently in the public consultation process in relation to implementation of the Climate Law. So far, however, climate campaigners are not satisfied with the efficiency and effectiveness of the Climate Law. However, it appears that the Climate Law would put substantial pressure on member states to act. This transition however must be just and inclusive, by putting people first and paying due attention to the key regions, industries and workers who face the greatest challenges.

Needless to say that active public participation and consultation in decision-making, as well as transparency and accountability must be the main drivers of such ambitious exercise. In fact, the Commission will launch a European Climate Pact by March 2020 to focus on three ways to engage with the public on climate action.

The EU continues to be a leading forerunner in promoting and implementing environment, climate and energy policies. However, it cannot undertake such tremendous task alone and, therefore, cooperation by all Member States, other countries and all relevant stakeholders is imperative. As the world’s largest single market the EU can continue to set global standards. Ultimately, we must all work together in the best interest of current and future generations.

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