With hundreds of thousands of young people on the streets calling for decisive action to tackle the climate crisis, expectations are high that EU leaders respond with convincing measures.

While the EU’s discourse at times has been promising, such as the aspiration to make the EU a climate leader, the policies being proposed have left much to be desired.

The Commission recently published a draft climate law aiming to usher the EU into a climate neutral future. But on the day of the launch, youth climate activist Greta Thunberg told the European Parliament that the proposal was a ‘’surrender”.

We agree. Here are five reasons why:

1 – Net zero emissions by 2050 is not climate leadership 

While the Paris Agreement aims to limit warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, the science-backed 2018 IPCC report considers this goal insufficient, making imperative a new ambition focusing on 1.5 degrees warming.

The EU is obliged to become climate neutral under the Paris Agreement. Therefore, the EU’s goal of climate neutrality by 2050 cannot be construed as providing leadership on climate. Even so, there is growing consensus in the scientific community and among civil society that this goal is not enough to avert climate catastrophe.

The draft climate law is far from representing the “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” demanded in the IPCC report, proposing instead a “gradual reduction” in greenhouse gas emissions.

2 – The absence of intermediate targets jeopardises the 2050 goal 

The Commission’s draft climate law delays setting an intermediate target for achieving climate neutrality by 2050. The EU’s current commitment to a 40% emissions cut by 2030 is generally agreed to be outdated.

The European Parliament has demanded the target be lifted to 55% but still, civil society groups question whether this is enough. GUE/NGL calls for 70% emissions reduction by 2030.

The Commission has delayed setting a more ambitious intermediate target, jeopardising progress in the decisive COP26 where countries are expected to update their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

Binding and ambitious intermediate targets are also needed to judge progress towards the goals set in the climate law and to hold the EU and member states to account for failure to deliver

3 – The targets are prone to accounting tricks

The draft climate law makes a concession to member states, Poland in particular, that have objected to the pace of the ecological transition by exempting country-level climate neutrality.

Instead, EU member states will be able to offset their emissions against each other. Finland, for example, aims to become climate neutral by 2035 whereas other member states may take longer. The concept of climate neutrality side-lines the real goal of deep decarbonisation across all sectors, while allowing big polluters to keep emitting.

Furthermore, the climate law does not account for increased emissions from international trade at a time the EU is aggressively pursuing free trade agreements with countries like Brazil, helping to accelerate the destruction of the Amazon forest and fragile ecosystems.

Such gaps and omissions put in doubt the sincerity of EU commitments to a full ecological science-backed transition that is capable of tackling the climate emergency. We need transparent, accountable, and robust decarbonisation targets.

4 – Over-reliance on market-based ‘solutions’

The climate law paves the way for industry-preferred ‘solutions’ like Carbon Capture and Storage (CSS) as an excuse to avoid full decarbonisation of the economy. The concept of climate neutrality promotes failed mechanisms like the Emissions Trading System (ETS), which has done little to halt growth in global emissions, while letting corporations off the hook for the damage they have caused.

Fossil fuel companies have spent millions of euros lobbying the European Union to delay or block effective climate action. The effects of this lobby are clear in the Commission’s draft climate law and more broadly in its discourse, among them the promotion of investment in gas infrastructure, a fossil fuel, as clean energy.

The draft law is fixated on economic growth, elevating cost effectiveness and economic efficiency above the science, and the demands of protesting youth, who want climate and social justice.

Carbon neutrality and the reference to all kinds of “sinks”, natural or otherwise, will actively encourage more research and spending in technofixes and geoengineering solutions to climate change, which are incredibly risky, costly and privatised. These impractical distractions will take money from where it is really needed.

5 – Not enough funding to deliver on ambition 

As the Commission has been publicising its climate law, member states have been negotiating the EU’s long-term budget.

A just transition to a decarbonised economy that leaves no one behind will only be possible with adequate resources and funding.

The climate law omits mention of the obligation the EU and its member states have to make available adequate resources to deliver on climate action. Instead, member states are signalling significant cuts to the EU’s cohesion and social funds, essential to a just transition, while increasing money for arms and border security.

The Commission proposed only 25% of the EU budget for climate action. Certain member states are calling for even less. Funding needs to be drastically increased to support implementation of the climate law.

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