Forget Brexit. Why the next hundred days can be decisive for EU climate action

(EurActiv, 10 Apr 2019) As EU leaders convene today to discuss the way forward for Britain’s departure from the European Union, they shouldn’t forget about the future ahead of them – including the all-important question of climate change objectives for 2050, writes Brook Riley.

Brook Riley is head of EU affairs at the Rockwool Group, a world leader in building insulation.

If only EU leaders were taking the same tough line on climate change as they are on Brexit! But where the UK faces hard deadlines and European unity, climate action gets vague promises and open commitments.

The all-important question is whether Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and the others will support the European Commission’s call to increase the ambition of the EU’s climate policies. The Commission wants Europe to do its bit to limit global warming to 1.5°C and go ‘climate neutral’ by 2050. The European Parliament agrees. But before this can be translated into legislation, all heads of state must give the green light.

They haven’t, or at least not yet. On 22 March, the morning after the decision to extend the Brexit deadline, EU leaders only agreed to ‘strive’ for climate neutrality. This is aspirational at best. Just as bad, leaders didn’t mention the 2050 deadline.

But it’s not game over. They will discuss climate again during the next European Council summit in June. And they aren’t all trying to spin their position as a success. Mr Macron’s verdict: “This is not in line with our climate commitments, with scientific consensus, or with our Youth’s rightful demands. We need a wake up call”.

What needs to happen to get on track for June?

First, pro-ambition advocates need a much better understanding of member states’ mindsets on climate action. Richer western countries back ambition, central and eastern member states are more reluctant. Who can blame them? Climate change is something people get interested in when basic salary, healthcare and wellbeing concerns are taken care of.

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EurActiv, 10 Apr 2019: Forget Brexit. Why the next hundred days can be decisive for EU climate action