European Climate Law enshrining the 2050 climate neutrality objective

In “A European Green Deal”

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On 4 March 2020, as part of the European Green Deal, the European Commission adopted a legislative proposal for a European Climate Law that sets the objective for the EU to become climate-neutral by 2050 and establishes a framework for achieving that objective.

The proposed regulation sets of a legally binding EU-wide common target of net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 (i.e. emissions of GHG must not exceed removals). The proposed regulation would require EU institutions and Member States to take the measures necessary to achieve the collective climate-neutrality objective, taking into account fairness and solidarity among Member States.

The Commission would be empowered to adopt delegated acts setting out a trajectory to reach carbon-neutrality by 2050, starting from the 2030 target. When setting the trajectory, the Commission would have to consider a broad range of factors including cost-effectiveness, competitiveness of the EU economy, fairness and solidarity, just and socially fair transition as well as technology, science and international developments. The power of delegation would be conferred on the Commission for an indeterminate period of time and could be revoked at any time by the European Parliament or by the Council.

The proposed regulation would also require EU institutions and Member States to improve adaption to climate change by enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability. Member States would have to develop and implement adaptation strategies and plans that include comprehensive risk management frameworks.

By 30 September 2023, and every five years thereafter, the Commission would have to assess the collective progress towards climate neutrality and on adaptation, the consistency of relevant EU and Member State measures with the climate neutrality objective, and the adequacy of relevant EU and national measures for progressing on climate adaption.

The Commission would have to take corrective action if it finds EU measures to be inconsistent with the climate-neutrality objective or inadequate with respect to adaptation, or if the collective progress is insufficient. It must also assess any draft measure or legislative proposal in the light of the climate neutrality objective, and include this analysis in all impact assessments.

The conclusion of the assessment of national measures would be included in the annual State of the Energy Union Report. If the Commission finds a Member State’s measures to be inconsistent with the trajectory towards climate neutrality or inadequate with respect to adaption, it may issue recommendations to that Member State. Such recommendations would be publicly available and would be complementary to the latest country-specific recommendations issued in the context of the European Semester. A Member State concerned by a recommendation would have to take due account of it and report how it has done so in its first progress report under the Energy Union Governance Regulation in the year following the recommendation. If a Member State decides not to address a recommendation or a substantial part of it, it would have to communicate its reasons to the Commission.

The December 2019 European Council endorsed climate-neutrality objective for 2050.

The European Committee of the Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee adopted their opinions on the proposal in July 2020.

On 17 September 2020, the Commission amended to proposal to introduce a target of 55 % reduction of  the EU’s GHG emissions by 2030, based on the climate target plan (see separate file) adopted on the same day. As Commission President von der Leyen explained in her State of the Union speech on 16 September 2020, this would set the EU on a feasible path to climate neutrality and benefit the EU economy.

In the European Parliament, the proposal has been referred to the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI), while the ITRE Committee is associated under Rule 57. On 11 September 2020 the ENVI Committee adopted its report (rapporteur Jytte Guteland, S&D, Sweden). The Parliament's position, adopted in the October I 2020 plenary, calls for a union-wide 60 % emissions reduction target by 2030, for net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest in the EU and in each Member State, and for negative emissions post-2050. The Commission would have to draw up an EU GHG budget 31 December 2021, and consider introducing a target for 2040. Delegated acts would not be used for setting the emission reductions trajectory. The European Panel on Climate Change, an independent scientific advisory body, would have to be established by June 2022.

On 5 March 2020, the Commission presented the legislative proposal to the Environment Council. The Environment Council agreed a partial general approach on the proposal on 23 October 2020. The December 2020 European Council endorsed the 55 % net emission reduction target for 2030, while also insisting on an enabling framework that benefits all Member States and comprises adequate support measures for a cost-efficient, just, socially balanced and fair transition, while taking different national circumstances into account. On 17 December 2020, the Environment Council agreed on a general approach.

Council and Parliament reached an agreement on the proposal on 21 April 2021. The agreement sets a 55 % net GHG emission reduction target for 2030 and an EU-wide climate neutrality target for 2050, establishes a European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change and foresees the use of a GHG budget for setting the 2040 target. Coreper approved the agreement on 5 May 2021, the ENVI Committee endorsed it on 10 May 2021, and the European Parliament voted to adopt it in the June II 2021 plenary session. Parliament approved the agreed text on 24 June 2021. The regulation was published in the Official Journal on 9 July 2021 and entered into force on 29 July 2021.

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Further reading:

Author: Gregor Erbach, Members' Research Service, legislative-train@europarl.europa.eu

Visit the European Parliament pages on climate change.

As of 20/01/2023.