EU ratification of Paris deal: the bloc joined forces despite divisions on national targets

The European Union ratified the Paris Agreement on October 4th, through a fast-track procedure in order to overcome the delays of the usual 28-States ratification process. This was possible due to the fact the Union is a party to the UNFCCC in its own right. The Environmental Ministers of the EU Member States – already under pressure after the swift ratification of the Agreement by the United States and China – approved the deal in an extraordinary meeting on September 30th. Then, the European Parliament voted the Agreement during the October 4th plenary session, which paved the way for the deal to take effect 30 days later, in time for the beginning of COP22, starting on November 7 in Morocco.

The succes and the speed of this exceptional move represents a great achievement for the Union and its Member States. However, the EU still has to complete the process of internal definition of targets and implementation tasks. In particular, the proposal currently on the table outlining how the collective emission reduction target is going to be shared among Member States had not met the favor of the whole bloc’s members. The so-called “Effort Sharing Regulation” (ESR) defines single greenhouse gas emission objectives for each Member States to be achieved between 2021 and 2030 in sectors not covered by the Emissions Trading System (ETS), like buildings, transport, agriculture and waste, as well as the accounting and flexibility rules.

The ESR proposal, as presented by the European Commission last July, includes national targets differentiated according to GDP per capita in order to take into account different capacities of Member States. Emission reduction objectives therefore range from 0% of Bulgaria to 40% assigned to Luxembourg and Sweden (compared to 2005 levels). In between are northern European countries, whose efforts are close to the top of the burden, as well as eastern European nations which have less stringent targets. A crucial element of the proposal is the introduction of new flexibilities to allow Member States to reach their targets cost efficiently. As for the national targets, also the possibility to use these flexible mechanisms is not equally distributed. In particular, 9 countries among those with more ambitious reduction will be eligible to access allowances from the ETS, whereas all Member States will be able to use credits from the land use sector, even if to different extent. Access to the latter is indeed higher for states with a larger share of emissions from agriculture, and thus considered to have a lower mitigation potential. Some countries, like Ireland and Denmark, have higher share of both options at their disposal. On the contrary, Germany, France and Italy can only rely to a small flexibility coming from the land use sector.

effort-sharingSource: European Commission on Twitter

As one would expect, reactions to the proposal have not been all positive, with a large number of Member States asking for more flexible accounting rules in order to reducing their overall effort. Some countries, like Italy and Poland, openly criticized the Commission’s proposal.

Although reaffirming the full support to both the EU and international climate actions, Italian Environment Minister, Gian Luca Galletti, recently stated that the proposed methodology for the distribution is unfair and does not take into account the efforts that Italy already put in place in the previous years and that will allow it to surpass the 2020 climate change objectives. As for the flexibility mechanisms, the Minister, asked that countries with a good agricultural management should be better rewarded and absolute emission contributions of each State recognized in the proposal. Therefore, at the Environment Council of mid-October, the Italian Minister called for alternative solutions that will ensure environmental integrity while avoiding current perverse effects.

Looking at the targets, indeed, with its 33% emission reduction objective, Italy seems to be the only country with an assigned target above the EU average although a GDP below. Sharp oscillations in per capita GDP in recent years will otherwise benefit other countries, like Greece, which will have less stringent targets for 2030 than they had for 2020. A further crucial issue is the fact that the starting point for the linear target trajectory in 2020 will be set as the average emissions in the period 2016-2018 (because of data availability). This provision has been claimed to reward countries that will not meet their 2020 targets while further penalizing those that reached their mitigation target well before the deadline.

Very different is the nature of Poland’s opposition. In a letter addressed to all the EU’s Environment Ministers just few days before the crucial vote on the ratification of the Paris Agreement, Polish Environment Minister Jan Szyszko asked for the recognition of “reduction achievements made under the Kyoto Protocol and the specificity of the national energy mix”. He refers to the fact that Poland wants to continue to use its energy sources, including hard coal and lignite, and that the government remains committed to its plan to build new coal plants.

Other countries have expressed concerns with targets assigned by the Commission shortly after the plan had been published. The Austrian government proved worried about its 36% reduction goal, described as difficult to achieve just with national measures. Official press releases, however, only mentioned Environmental Minister Rupprechter’s expectation to delay the negotiations to 2017. Kimmo Tiilikainen, Environmental Minister of Finland, declared that his government was preparing for action towards a slightly lower emissions reduction, Politico reports; similar concerns came from Romanian representatives – although the country is required to reduce its emissions only by 2%, with the possibility to benefit from an additional 1.7% flexibility.

The German government, on the other hand, expressed satisfaction referring to the proposed emissions reduction plan, stating the country is already at work on the way to fulfill all Paris and previous pledges.

Further elements of instability are the possible Brexit-related externalities, which shaped last months’ political agenda. With a 37% reduction (and only an additional 0.4% flexibility related to land use), the British target is higher than the EU-28 average. In the case of a withdrawal of the UK from the new ESR following the exit of the kingdom itself from the Union, the remaining EU members would jointly have to realize an additional emission reduction of 26.6 Mt per year – which approximately means an additional 1.1% reduction for each country according to the current redistribution principle. The situation would get even worse if the UK reduction share will be demanded only to the wealthier members. However, members of the British government said no steps back will be taken on climate change goals, ENDS Europe reported.

The debate is still open. According to an official press release, the 17th October environment council of EU Ministers’s discussion has been dominated by flexibility measures, with some countries asking for more room and others proving concerned about the possibility for some members to avoid taking necessary actions.

The ESR is a crucial component of the EU climate change effort to reduce GHG emissions and therefore at the base of the success and credibility of the Paris Agreement. The proposal will continue to be discussed within the European Council and the Parliament, until a final consensus will be reached among all Member States.


(Image: Climate deal approved and signed by Parliament, October 4, 2016. Credit: European Parliament/Flickr)