EU Ministers Call for Global Greenhouse Gas Peak by 2020

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By Stephen Gardner

Sept. 18 — Delegates from around the world meeting at the United Nations climate summit in Paris late this year should agree that global greenhouse gas emissions will peak no later than 2020 and will then decline to half their 1990 level by 2050, environment ministers from the European Union's 28 member states said Sept. 18.

In a common EU position adopted at a meeting in Brussels in preparation for the Nov. 30–Dec. 11 Paris climate summit, the ministers also said delegates in Paris should agree, as part of a “durable legally binding agreement,” to a rolling program of five-year reviews of countries' emissions commitments and should endorse a longer term goal of achieving worldwide “sustainable climate neutrality” by 2100.

EU climate action and energy commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete said to prevent dangerous levels of global warming, all countries should become “carbon neutral by the end of the century.”

Emissions reduction pledges, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), so far made by countries ahead of the Paris conference, were “very good news” because in preparing them “countries have done serious work, approved at the highest level,” he said.

Nevertheless, it was clear that INDCs would have to be built on because current pledges fall short of the emissions cuts needed to ensure a 50 percent global cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and longer term climate neutrality, according to Cañete.

INDCs representing about 70 percent of global emissions had so far been submitted ahead of Paris, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres said Sept. 15.

Commitments Reiterated 

The EU position for Paris agreed to by the environment ministers was largely a reiteration of current EU commitments and pledges.

For example, the environment ministers repeated the EU's stated goal that developed countries should provide $100 billion a year by 2020 in finance to developing countries for climate-related expenditure.

The ministers' position of halving global emissions by 2050 compared to 1990 is equivalent to a 60 percent cut compared to 2010 levels, which the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, proposed in February as a goal for Paris.

On review periods, the ministers said the Paris agreement should “contain a dynamic five yearly mitigation ambition mechanism in which all parties should be required to either submit new or updated commitments, without falling behind previous levels of commitment, or resubmit the existing ones.”

The main new element in the environment ministers' position was the adoption of “climate neutrality” as a goal by the end of the century, rather than “decarbonization,” the term the Group of Seven industrialized countries used in a June declaration.

Carole Dieschbourg, Luxembourg's environment minister who chaired the ministers' meeting, said “climate neutrality” was stronger wording “because it is tackling all the emissions.”

Partial Welcome 

Wendel Trio, director of advocacy group Climate Action Network Europe, said the EU's call for a “binding and transparent international climate regime” was welcome but had “blind spots.”

Ministers had not given “clarity on how and when the EU will increase its 2030 climate target, which does not represent its fair share of the global effort,” and had not been clear enough on how the EU would assist developing countries, Trio said.

In its INDC, the EU has promised to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent of their 1990 level by 2030.

Markus J. Beyrer, director-general of industry federation BusinessEurope, said the position the environment ministers adopted went “in the right direction,” but “a clear call for comparable efforts by major carbon emitting economies outside Europe is missing.”

Reserve Ratified 

Separately, the environment ministers ratified a fix to the EU's emissions trading system (ETS), known as the market stability reserve (MSR).

The MSR is intended to combat a surplus of emissions allowances available to participants in the ETS, which has depressed the EU carbon price to a level considered too low to encourage investment to reduce emissions. The ETS covers power plants, heavy industry and some aviation.

The European Parliament voted in July to approve the MSR, which will remove allowances from the market when the surplus reaches a certain level, and reintroduce them if the surplus falls. The MSR also will absorb 900 million allowances that should have been introduced into the ETS between 2014 and 2016.

In a majority vote, the environment ministers backed the introduction of the MSR in 2019. Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Hungary, Poland and Romania voted against, preferring a 2021 start date and arguing that an earlier start would unduly disrupt the ETS before its next phase, which starts in 2021.

In a statement appended to the ministers' decision to ratify the MSR, Poland questioned the legal basis on which the decision was taken. Poland said the decision could only be adopted on the basis of unanimity among EU member states.

Andrzej Celiñski, a spokesman for the Polish permanent representation to the EU, told Bloomberg BNA that Poland had not yet decided if it would “start legal actions” to have the decision reviewed.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Gardner in Brussels at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at