On Wednesday, March 4th, 2020, the EU Commission presented the eagerly anticipated climate law. This proposal, which had been announced by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen for the first 100 days of her term in office, is regarded as the centrepiece of the European Green Deal. However, it received a mixed reaction.
The fact, that it is the first project mentioned in the Agenda of Commission President von der Leyen, shall confirm the priority, which the Green Deal has been given by the new Commission. Herein, the emphasised target is to make Europe the “globally first climate-neutral continent”. A key element of this project is to achieve climate-neutrality by 2050, which shall be put on a legal basis by the now introduced climate law. However, the law has already been strongly criticised by some quarters.
Climate law - a “toothless tiger”?
The proposal on a climate law, which was adopted on Wednesday, provides for a significant reduction of greenhouse emissions. On this basis, the EU commits itself in principle to achieve climate-neutrality by 2050 at the latest. This would mean that by then the quantity of released greenhouse gases would be reduced to such an extent that these can be completely absorbed by existing forests, soils, agricultural areas and wetlands as well as through relevant technologies.
However, there are doubts as to whether the law in its current form is really suited to reach this target. For example, there are no penalties or financial consequences, which might be imposed if the planned measures are not adhered to. If in case of violations, Member States do not have to fear any serious consequences, the law might remain a “toothless tiger”.
Lack of interim targets until 2030
Apart from that, the law does not include any concrete intermediate targets, for example standards regarding the reduction of greenhouse gases by 2030. This has been criticised among other by representatives of the Green and Social Democrat faction as well as the Left. Until now, the EU target has been the reduction of emissions by reducing greenhouse gases by 40 % compared to 1990. Meanwhile, it is relatively undisputed that this will not be enough to become emission-neutral by 2050. As soon as she had assumed office as Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen announced that she intended to increase this value to 50 % or even 55 %. Climate protectors even regard an increase to 65 % as necessary. Shortly before the publication of the climate law, twelve EU Member States urged the Commission in an open letter to present the revised climate target for 2030 by the end of June at the latest. Instead, the Commission plans a “careful impact analysis”, based on which it will present a revised target for 2030 in September. Critics fear that in view of the UN Climate Conference in Glasgow, scheduled for November, this will be too late. If the EU proves to be unable to agree on a new target until the Conference and therefor presents no more than a sketchy climate plan, it might lose a lot of credibility at an international level.
“When your house is on fire, you don't wait a few more years to start putting it out”
Greta Thunberg, who, to mark the adoption of the proposal, had been invited by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to participate in the meeting of the Committee on the Environment, even called the climate law a capitulation. She ended her speech, in which she did not hide her disappointment and frustration, by saying: “We will not allow you to surrender our future”. In a subsequent press conference on climate law, Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President and Commissioner for Climate Protection, conceded that one would “pursue a different approach”, however, he emphasised that one would work towards the same goal. Timmermans also emphasised the role model effect, such a law might have. It should be a “wakeup call” for the partners of the EU worldwide.
Climate policy as a social issue
The Chamber of Labour expects the European Union to pursue a multilateral and ambitious climate policy. The EU should continue to assume a leading role in international climate negotiations. However, climate policy should be understood as a social issue and therefore must be fair for all. From the AK’s point of view, questions regarding social justice and the socially just transition towards a sustainable and climate-neutral Europe have to be at the centre of the agenda. An ambitious climate and energy policy within the scope of a Green Deal must promote innovation, maintain the value added in Europe and create employment.