EU leaders break stalemate over climate target, claim deal
Students attend a climate march, with the participation of Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, in Turin, Italy, Friday. Dec. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)
BRUSSELS -- EU leaders broke a deadlock early Friday and claimed a deal over a key climate target by committing to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, sidestepping the objections of Poland, one of the blocs biggest economies.
Two days after the EU's new commission chief unveiled her "European Green Deal" to fight climate change, heads of state and government cried victory during a summit in Brussels, calling it a major step forward in the continent's ambition to remain a global climate leader.
"We reached an agreement on climate change. It is crucial," EU Council President Charles Michel said.
Poland failed to commit to the deal but couldn't stop the summit meeting from endorsing "the objective of achieving a climate-neutral EU by 2050," as the conclusions read. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Poland's hesitation, considering its dependency on coal, was "completely acceptable." She said it was ""an intensive vivid debate" that preceded the decision after some 10 hours of talks.
Poland had wanted to wait until 2070 to go climate neutral instead of 2050, according to a European diplomat involved in the talks, but the other EU leaders refused. Von der Leyen said Poland could have more time to "go through details, but this will not change the time frame."
Prime Minister Mateusz Morowiecki insisted that "Poland has been exempted from the principle of reaching climate neutrality (by 2050). We will reach it at our own pace."
Michel said it would take a special meeting with Poland to overcome the objections, set for next June. "It's important to take into consideration different national circumstances and different starting points; to take into consideration the social consequences" of the transition to clean energy, Michel said.
The EU leader was criticized for claiming a deal while Poland still stood aside, but Michel said that "we need to be creative to advance the European project."
Making the bloc's economy carbon neutral by 2050 has been a hot topic on the European agenda for months, but the proposal failed to get approval at a summit last June and was relegated to a non-binding footnote in the final statement of that summit.
Von der Leyen has since been appointed as the new chief of the EU Commission, the bloc's executive arm, and has made the fight against climate change her top priority. Another failure this week to get support from all members would be seen as an ill-fated start for her five-year tenure.
A major problem for coal-dependent nations Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic is the heavy costs associated with transforming their economy and energy sources. To get the support of all EU members, von der Leyen on Wednesday unveiled a new "European Green Deal," with an offer of some 100 billion euros ($130 billion) in public and private funds to help the fossil-fuel reliant EU nations make the transition to lower emissions.
In addition to the cash issue, leaders also must find a compromise on the type of energies that will be used during the transition.
The Czechs want guarantees that they won't be prevented from developing nuclear power units and will have the support of France, whose electricity production is largely provided by nuclear sources.
"Nuclear is part of the transition," French president Emmanuel Macron said. "The all-coal countries won't be able to switch to all-renewable overnight."
Before reaching carbon neutrality, Von der Leyen wants the bloc to reduce carbon emission by at least 50% by 2030 compared with 1990 levels, more than the current goal of 40%. If possible, she would like to increase the EU's target for 2030 to as high as 55% without hurting the bloc's economy.
Climate policy experts have urged the EU to quickly implement tougher emissions targets for 2030. Frans Timmermans, the commissioner in charge of the Green Deal, said said he hoped the proposal for the EU's 2030 emissions reduction targets would be ready in June.
Greenpeace activists, who have described Von der Leyen's plans as "too little too late," staged a protest before the meeting started. They scaled the European Union's new headquarters and unfurled a banner warning of a "climate emergency."
The banner stood for several hours but was removed before leaders arrived. Activists were also dispersed.
"The world is on fire and our governments are letting it burn," Greenpeace Europe Director Jorgo Riss told the AP.