By Kate Abnett
LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) -European Union countries struck deals this week on a raft of new climate change policies, including tougher targets to expand renewable energy and a 2035 end to the sale of new fossil fuel-powered cars.
Taken together, the laws are designed to ensure the 27-country EU – the world’s third-biggest greenhouse gas emitter – reduces its net emissions by 55% from 1990 levels by 2030.
The agreements struck by ministers from EU countries, at meetings on Monday and Tuesday, will form their joint position for upcoming negotiations with EU Parliament on the final laws.
Countries upheld core parts of the proposals, which the European Commission first proposed last summer and has doubled down on in recent months as a way to cut reliance on Russian fossil fuels by switching to cheaper locally-produced green energy.
But with governments weighing their commitments to protect the planet against other national interests – and a backdrop of soaring inflation – countries moved to weaken some of the green measures.
Here’s what they agreed:
CARBON MARKET OVERHAUL
Environment ministers on Tuesday clinched agreement on an upgrade of the EU’s carbon market, its main emissions-cutting policy, which forces industry and power plants to buy CO2 permits when they pollute.
Countries accepted core elements of the proposal by the European Commission, which drafts EU laws, including to reduce the supply of permits in the scheme each year by 4.2% – compared with 2.2% today – and phase out free CO2 permits for industries by 2035, but with a more gradual start to the phaseout.
They backed plans to add shipping to the scheme and agreed rules to make it easier for the EU to intervene in response to CO2 price spikes.
NEW CARBON MARKET
Countries eventually rallied behind a new EU carbon market imposing CO2 costs on polluting fuels used in buildings and transport, after long talks on how to shield low-carbon citizens from the measure’s potential costs.
Ministers agreed to delay the launch of the new carbon market by a year, to 2027, and said it should be accompanied by a new 59-billion-euro EU fund to support poorer households, comprised of revenues from CO2 permits sold in the new carbon market.
CLEAN CARS BY 2035
EU countries supported the bloc’s proposal for a 100% cut in CO2 emissions from new cars by 2035, which would effectively ban new combustion engine car sales in the EU by that date.
They also asked the European Commission to assess in 2026 whether CO2-neutral fuels and hybrid vehicles can contribute to the 2035 goal.
A push by Italy, Slovakia and other countries to delay the phaseout to 2040 was unsuccessful, but they did win an exemption for small carmakers from tougher CO2 rules until 2035.
RENEWABLES, ENERGY SAVINGS
EU countries’ energy ministers on Monday agreed to more ambitious targets: by 2030 derive 40% of energy from renewable sources – compared with the EU’s 22% share in 2020 – and cut energy consumption by 9% against expected levels.
Brussels had proposed even more ambitious targets last month to cut reliance on Russian fossil fuels, which ministers will consider in later negotiations.
Countries weakened other elements of the proposals, however, for example by delaying to 2035 from 2030 a proposed deadline for half of hydrogen used by industry to come from renewable sources.
NATIONAL EMISSIONS TARGETS, CARBON SINKS
Ministers also supported proposals to upgrade the national targets Brussels sets to cut emissions in sectors, such as transport and buildings, and backed a separate law requiring countries to cultivate forests, wetlands and improve soil health to store more CO2 in natural “carbon sinks”.
(Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by Jan Harvey, Tomasz Janowski and Michael Perry)