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EU sets goal of 90% emissions cut by 2040

Economic slowdown, Russia-Ukraine conflict pose threat to achieving target

By CHEN WEIHUA in Brussels | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-02-08 07:01

Spanish farmers block a highway during a protest near Mollerussa, in the northeastern Lleida Province, on Tuesday. Since early morning, farmers have staged nationwide tractor protests, blocking highways and causing traffic jams, demanding changes in European Union policies to combat production cost hikes. EMILIO MORENATTI/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The European Commission called on the European Union on Tuesday to achieve a 90 percent reduction in its greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 compared with the 1990 levels despite multiple challenges, including the latest farmers' protests in many member states.

The target recommended by the commission is based on an impact assessment on possible pathways to reach the agreed goal of making the EU climate neutral by 2050.

"We have just lived through the hottest year on record. The case for climate action is beyond doubt and requires planning now," said European Commissioner for Climate Action Wopke Hoekstra. "Going forward, we will have to stand more firmly on two legs: a safe and healthy climate for all to live in, and a strong, resilient economy, with a bright future for business and a just transition for all."

While the recommendation will kick off a discussion among member states and other stakeholders, a legislative proposal will be made by the next European Commission after European elections in June. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is expected to announce on Feb 19 if she will seek reelection.

Under the EU Climate Law, the proposal must be approved by member states and the European Parliament.

The ambitious target would require a massive deployment of renewable energy, the abolition of coal, a drastic reduction in gas consumption and a fundamental transformation of transportation, food, buildings and waste management systems.

Eleven EU member states, including Germany, France and Spain, had sent a joint letter to the commission that the transition for the 2040 target needs to be "fair and just" and "leave no one behind, especially the most vulnerable citizens".

The EU's intermediate target is to cut emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030, compared with the 1990 levels.

But the economic slowdown, the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the rapid rise of far-right parties are posing a threat to the bloc in achieving its green ambitions and 2050 climate neutrality goal.

Qin Yan, a carbon analyst in Oslo with financial data provider Refinitiv, said the European Commission's goal will put the EU on track to the 2050 climate neutrality goal. But the 90 percent interim target for 2040 is at the lower range of the 90-95 percent recommended by the scientific advisory board.

"So it already hints at EU lawmakers to intentionally avoid suggesting drastic climate goals under current circumstances," Qin said.

"It is without doubt that the situation in Europe is quite different from 2019 when the climate neutrality goal was put forward, and the green legislations have been increasingly under criticism."

Early on Tuesday, von der Leyen withdrew a controversial law to halve chemical pesticide use by the end of this decade, a response to farmers' protests sweeping EU member states.

Von der Leyen admitted that the pesticide law, officially known as Sustainable Use Regulation, "has become a symbol of polarization" and failed to win support in the European Parliament.

The move has been criticized as a defeat for the EU's signature Green Deal.

"This is a bitter blow for biodiversity and human health," Grace O'Sullivan, MEP from Ireland, said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

Brussels-based Pesticide Action Network Europe commented on Tuesday: "This will not only harm our health and biodiversity, but also the farmers and their families. Chemical-intensive agriculture favors agrochemical industry shareholders, not farmers."

While von der Leyen and MEPs were meeting on Tuesday during the parliament's plenary session in Strasbourg, France, dozens of farmers with their tractors protested outside the building against declining incomes, rising costs and excessive regulations.


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