Berlin faces battle over climate targets
The German presidency of the EU Council aims for a recovery fuelled by renewables, but there is disagreement among member states over key climate targets
Germany's energy and climate ambitions appear to be increasingly aligned with those of the European Green Deal, but the country faces the challenge of convincing more reluctant member states before the end of its six-month presidency of the Council of the EU in December.
Berlin is hoping to conclude negotiations on a climate law that will legally enshrine the bloc's 2050 climate-neutrality ambition and raise the emission reduction target for 2030 from the current 40pc below 1990 levels to 50-55pc. The file is a key priority for the presidency, but reaching an agreement may prove challenging.
"The European Parliament is working flat out on the climate law, while EU governments are still at the beginning of the discussion," says Michael Bloss, a German MEP and shadow rapporteur for the file. The economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic may further distract national governments from committing to longer-term green initiatives, with a looming no-deal Brexit potentially wreaking further havoc on Berlin’s political agenda.
"The European Parliament is working flat out on the climate law, while EU governments are still at the beginning of the discussion” Bloss, European Parliament
Beyond Germany, 12 other member states, predominantly in western Europe, appear to favour a 55pc target for 2030. But some coal-reliant central and eastern European countries are more reluctant—with Poland potentially set to repeat its vote against the otherwise-unanimous 2050 climate-neutrality goal in the European Council last December.
Divisions among member states on the technologies for reducing emissions are also likely to resurface, with some pushing for the inclusion of nuclear power and gas. A letter to the European Commission from Bulgaria, Romania and the Visegrad Four (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) called for its climate target plan and associated impact assessment "to not exclude any technologies that might be used to reach the target”.
Agreement on the EU's 2021-27 budget at the start of the German council presidency, where Berlin succeeded in tying EU spending to the European Green Deal, might push some member states into line. Funding from the €672.5bn ($799.3bn) Recovery and Resilience Facility—the bulk of the EU's €750bn recovery fund—is limited to supporting green and digital transitions. And access to the full amounts available through the regional Just Transition Fund requires acceptance of the 2050 climate-neutrality goal, which may finally convince Poland. The country will receive nearly 27pc of the €10bn fund if it concedes.
The ambition of the climate target plan—along with the accompanying economic stimulus and targets for renewable energy—will be instrumental in determining the path of the EU's energy transition. The EU is already likely to overshoot its existing 2030 target, with emissions likely to fall by 44pc by the end of the decade, according to a report released in August by two German bodies, thinktank Agora Energiewende and research organisation the Öko-Institut.
Emissions may drop further as a result of recent and planned green energy initiatives, such as the hydrogen and energy sector integration strategies. The Commission will unveil an offshore wind strategy towards the end of the year that may build on the German presidency's plans for new frameworks for cross-border renewables projects.
The overshoot also suggests Brussels has plenty of tools at its disposal beyond the climate target plan for achieving greater emission reductions.
Earlier in August, the Commission launched a review of the Renewable Energy Directive with a view to raising its 2030 target for renewables in the EU’s energy mix from its current 32pc. Kadri Simson, EU energy commissioner, explained in a statement that "we have started assessing the impact of more ambitious 2030 climate objectives and different scenarios to get there. It is clear that every path to climate neutrality requires scaling up and accelerating the production of renewable energy."
The Commission is due to unveil its plan for raising the 2030 emission reduction target in September—with expectations among lobbyists in Brussels that it will be at the top of the proposed 50-55pc range—while parliament is set to vote on its negotiating position in October.