S.13. European Green Deal


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The EU Climate Law – a step in the right direction or a missed opportunity?

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

The EC published its landmark proposal for a Regulation establishing the framework for achieving climate neutrality, also known as the European Climate Law. Additionally, the EC launched public consultations on the future European Climate Pact, as well as on the impact assessments on the future Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism Directive and the review of the Energy Taxation Directive.

With the Climate Law proposal, the EU executive “establishes a framework for the irreversible and gradual reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions” by setting out a “binding objective of climate neutrality in the Union by 2050 in pursuit of the long-term temperature goal set out in the Paris Agreement”.

However, this so-called law is not a simple proposal for a binding Regulation coming from the EC. As a flagship policy proposal of the European Green Deal (EGD), it receives very high public and media attention. Compared to all kinds of other legal proposals such as the ones that formed the “Clean Energy for All Europeans” Package (CEP), which adoption although crucial for the EU energy market as well as the climate and energy targets did not enjoy such high media coverage as the proposals of the EGD.

With this new proposal, the EC attempts to balance the politically sensitive topic of cutting the EU GHG emissions and remaining economically competitive, as well as amending and agreeing on the Union’s climate governance. This balancing act importantly includes an EU-wide goal, instead of separate national targets. In reality, this translates into an example of a multi-speed European development, where the Member States (MSs) will be contributing to the goal at varying degrees. This appears to be aimed at satisfying both the more ambitious MSs, in terms of climate mitigation measures, and the ones that would require more time and significant resources to fully decarbonise their economies. It is, in fact, a logical development following the European Council Conclusions of 12 December 2019, where some of the MSs agreed to reach climate neutrality at their own pace.

The new proposed Climate Law amends the Governance Regulation, adopted in 2018 as part of the CEP, and does not include legally binding targets yet. However, it sets a timeline for the EC to adopt a proposal by September 2020 for an upward revision to 50% or 55% of the current Union’s emissions target for 2030 of 40% “in light of the climate-neutrality objective”. The ongoing impact assessment for this upward revision of the target will take into account the National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs) for 2030 that are due to be submitted to the UNFCCC in 2020 according to the Paris Agreement.

However, as of 02 March 2020, out of the 27 MSs, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Romania, and Spain have yet to submit to the EC their final integrated National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs), for which the internal European deadline was 01 January 2020. In addition, the Climate Law sets a legal timeline by June 2021 for an in-depth review of the renewables and energy efficiency directives of the CEP, which were adopted in December 2018 and are still being implemented by MSs.

As some observers point out, the politically sensitive cherry on the top of the newly proposed Regulation appears to be the powers given to the EU executive to adopt delegated acts in order “to supplement [the Climate Law] by setting out a trajectory at Union level to achieve the climate-neutrality objective […] until 2050. At the latest within six months after each global stocktake […] of the Paris Agreement, the EC shall review the trajectory.” This power to adopt delegated acts is foreseen to be given to the EC for an “indeterminate period of time”, however, it “may be revoked at any time by the EP or by the Council”.

This means that the new Climate proposal outlines a timeline governed by the EC, under which the EU executive will set the EU-wide emissions targets every five years following consultation of the relevant EC Expert Groups and national experts, while the EP and the Council will have two months to formulate any objections once the EC has adopted the act. Thus, avoiding the full negotiations process and speeding up the process.

In addition, by 30 September 2023, and every 5 years thereafter, the EC shall assess: (i) the collective progress made by all MSs towards the achievement of the climate-neutrality objective and their progress on adaptation measures; (ii) the consistency of Union measures with the climate-neutrality objective and their adequacy; (iii) the consistency of national measures identified, on the basis of the National Energy and Climate Plans or the Biennial Progress Reports, as relevant for the achievement of the climate-neutrality objective, and their adequacy.

It remains to be seen whether this timeline through delegated acts will pass the stern test of the negotiating process with the Council and the EP in order to become a new legal climate reality. However, most importantly than all of the above crucial developments, the newly proposed Climate Law embodies a shift both in terms of policy-making and discourse. It moves the governance of the EU energy and climate policy framework from the legal domain to the realm of highly political balancing of climate geopolitics with tight and ambitious timelines and intra-EU targets and budgeting.

The success of this balancing act will be crucial for the EGD as well as for the EU’s image prior to the September EU-China Summit and the November 2020 UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, but more importantly, it will be vital in establishing an efficient climate mitigation framework in the world’s largest economic zone.