BRUSSELS — European Union leaders reached a deal Friday to cut the bloc’s net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by the end of the decade compared with 1990 levels, avoiding a deadlock ahead of a U.N. climate meeting this weekend.
After nightlong discussions at their two-day summit in Brussels, the 27 member states approved the EU executive commission’s proposal to toughen the bloc’s intermediate target on the way to climate neutrality by mid-century, after a group of reluctant, coal-reliant countries agreed to support the improved goal.
“Europe is the leader in the fight against climate change,” tweeted EU Council President Charles Michel. “We decided to cut our greenhouse gas emissions of at least 55% by 2030.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the 21-hour summit, during which the climate debate was a constant worry, had much to show for it. “It was worth having a sleepless night,” she said.
Five years after the Paris agreement, the EU wants to be a leader in the fight against global warming. Yet the bloc’s leaders were unable to agree on the new target the last time they met in October, mainly because of financial concerns by eastern nations seeking more clarity about how to fund and handle the green transition.
But the long-awaited deal on a long-term budget and coronavirus recovery clinched Thursday by EU leaders swung the momentum.
Large swaths of the record-high $2.2 trillion package are set to pour into programs and investments designed to help the member states, regions and sectors particularly affected by the green transition — those that are in need of a deep economic and social transformation. EU leaders have agreed that 30% of the package — some $660 billion — should be used to support the transition.
Still, agreeing on common language was not an easy task. Negotiations were punctuated throughout the night by intense discussions in the plenary session and multiple chats in smaller groups on the sidelines.
The event today will be co-hosted by the U.K. with the United Nations and France.
French President Emmanuel Macron praised “a major signal” that will enable EU leaders “to bring in our wake our big international partners, especially the United States and China.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced last week that he wants the U.K. to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 68% from 1990 levels by 2030.
Poland, which last year didn’t commit to the EU’s 2050 climate neutrality goal, and other eastern countries, including the Czech Republic and Hungary, largely depend on coal for their energy needs. They considered it unfair that all member states should be submitted to the same ambition without considering their respective energy mixes.
To win their approval, member states agreed that the new target should be delivered collectively. According to the Belgian Prime minister’s office, “leaders agreed that the cuts will be first achieved in sectors and countries where there is still plenty of room for improvement.”
In addition, the European Commission will take into account specific national situations when drawing up the measures. A progress report will be submitted to the European Council in the spring.
The accord also left the door open to member states to use gas or nuclear power as they drop fossil fuels. EU leaders agreed last year that nuclear energy would be part of the bloc’s solution to making its economy carbon neutral, and they reiterated Friday that they would respect member states’ rights to decide on their energy mix and to choose the most appropriate technologies to reach the goal.
World leaders agreed five years ago in Paris to keep the global warming increase to below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, and ideally no more than 2.7 degrees by the end of the century. Under the Paris accord, countries are required to submit updated climate targets by the end of this year.