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Climate action: a priority for the EU?

The last few weeks have proved to be a milestone for the European Union, which has seen successive negotiations on Brexit, renewal of the European Commission, inter-institutional exchanges on the European budget 2020 (final year of the current financial framework) and above all, on the priorities and envelopes for the 2021-2027 period…

In this context however, the future of the European Union is at stake. But the future appears underwhelming as the dissensions between institutions undermine these debates. It is therefore legitimate to wonder to what extent the objectives set by the European Union, to which each measure and policy should contribute, can be achieved. One of the consequences of this ambiguous discourse on one of the major topics of recent years, will be the fight against climate change, issue on which this article will focus

Shared, clear and quantified objectives…
The European Union has become aware of the climate emergency and the crossroads at which the world finds itself, if it wants to safeguard a healthy environment for future generations. In 2008, the EU adopted targets to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% in 2020 based on 1990’s levels. The success of this approach is not to be questioned, since this objective was achieved in 2015 and progress are still ongoing. However, this ease in meeting its climate commitments calls into question the relevance of chosen targets… especially since the level of gaz emissions increased in 2017 (+0.6%).

More recently, the European Union has defended the 2016 Paris Agreement, aiming at strong objectives. It then committed itself to achieving a 40% reduction of its emissions by 2030 based on 1990 levels. Given the current policies and ongoing efforts by Member States, it seems unlikely that this threshold will be reached in time unless ambitious new strategies are defined and implemented. This additional commitment is part of the EU’s long-term strategy to achieve a carbon-neutral economy by 2050 – a Clean Planet for all.

The next step: Do anything possible to achieve the targets defined in these commitments?

… strongly supported by the European Parliament…
The Europe 2020 strategy, which makes climate targets more engaging, comes to an end at the end of next year. The EU therefore, has the opportunity to make one last effort if it wants to maintain its – relative – good international image in the fight for climate and the environment.

The last few weeks have been marked, particularly in the European Parliament debates, by the revision of the 2020 budget. It must be said that the European Union is struggling to make progress in solidarity with substantial resources to combat climate change. Among the three institutions directly involved in European decision-making – the European Commission, the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament – only MEPs defend a strong European position. They thus propose an increase in the credits allocated to climate issues by 2 billion euro compared to the Commission’s proposal, to achieve more than 37 billion euro. The stated objective is to prepare the multiannual financial framework 2021-2027, which should allocate at least 20% of its budget to the fight against climate change.

... but with a feeble support from Member States
Despite the presumed willingness to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the impact of European activities on the climate and the environment, the political will of some stakeholders is confronted to the Member States’ resistance. Most of them are thus lobbying the European institutions to limit their obligations and their contribution to the European Union’s budget – and, by extension, to climate action.

There are consequently many discrepancies between Parliament’s requests and the concessions granted by the Council, who took the stance to reduce of the 2020 budget by 1.51 billion (compared to the European Commission’s proposal). Similarly, the majority of Member States strongly rejects the possibility of increasing their contribution to the EU budget regarding the 1% of GNI under the current financial framework (the Commission proposes an increase to 1.11% and the Parliament to 1.3%).

In parallel, President Juncker’s intervention at the European Parliament on 22 October to undergo a review of the European Commission’s policy. While efforts have been acknowledged at the political (external relations, peacekeeping, migration management, Brexit negotiations) and economic (growth, employment, investment) levels, one of the negative aspects of his mandate remains, according to MEPs: his hesitation in the fight against climate change.

These observations are even more alarming as the European Union budget alone could not reverse the current pollution curve. If Member States continue to stick to their positions, while imitating their main American and Asian competitors, not only will the objectives set by the EU not be achieved, but the planet will continue to perish until a point of no return.

This movement is symptomatic of the usual functioning of the European Union and the de facto opposition between Community ambitions and their possible implications within the Member States. At a time when sovereignty and the recognition of this sovereignty are at the heart of national policies, a fourth power, hitherto ignored, is roaring. If the EU fails to find adequate solutions to this crisis, and more generally to the other issues it faces, the answer may come from the citizens. This third party will consequently need to be listened to and supported.

The next programming should bring a first step in this direction, by further integrating certain stakeholders (cities, civil society, companies, etc.) in the decision-making. Despite this willingness, will the implementation and impact of these discussions have a real existence on the defined policies?


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