Brexit has changed nothing for EU climate goals, Cañete says

31 January 2017 9:55am

20 July 2016. By Emily Waterfield.

EU countries will have to cut greenhouse-gas emissions from sectors including agriculture and buildings by up to 40 percent from 2021 to 2030, under new proposals by the European Commission.

The UK has been given a binding target of reducing emissions 37 percent below 2005 levels — even though Britain will probably exit the EU before the decade ends.

Climate commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete today played down concerns about Brexit and emission targets.

“Let’s be very clear — from a legal point of view, the outcome of the referendum has not changed anything,” he told journalists in Brussels. “The UK remains an EU member state with all the rights and responsibilities of a member state.”

The commission proposal sets national targets for emission cuts from activities not included on the EU carbon market, such as heating and cooling buildings, urban planning, managing waste and agriculture.

But the UK target shows the EU in a legal limbo until the British prime minister takes action following last month’s vote to leave the bloc. The June referendum saw 52 percent of voters back a departure from the EU, but the UK is legally a member of the union until it has completed approximately two years of exit negotiations.

Those will start once the new prime minister, Theresa May, triggers a clause in the EU treaty. This isn’t expected before early 2017.

All 27 targets for the remaining member states will have to be recalculated once the UK — the EU’s second-largest economy — leaves the bloc. This raises questions about how seriously governments will take negotiations based on the text proposed today.

National targets

Emission-cut targets for other countries range from 40 percent for Luxembourg and Sweden and 39 percent for Germany, Finland and Denmark, to 2 percent for Romania and 0 percent* for Bulgaria.

Several former-communist countries that joined the EU in 2004 were allowed to increase emissions in the years up to 2021, allowing them to modernize their energy systems. This means that even keeping emissions at current levels is likely to be a challenge.

Overall, countries must bring emissions from industries not covered by the EU’s Emission Trading System, or ETS, 30 percent below 2005 levels before 2031, in line with an agreement made by governments in 2014.

National targets are set in line with each country’s gross domestic product per capita. The figure is adjusted “to reflect cost-effectiveness in a fair and balanced manner,” the commission said in a statement today.

This means avoiding overburdening wealthy countries, including the UK and Germany, which have to date taken some of the most ambitious action to reduce emissions.


The ETS covers about 40 percent of total emissions from the bloc, from the industrial and power industries.

Other emissions come from sectors affected by today’s proposal. Farming generates about 10 percent of EU emissions, while waste management alone contributes more than 3 percent.

For the first time, the new rules would allow countries to count some emission cuts made in non-ETS industries against emission reductions made through the use of the EU carbon market rules.

This “flexibility” will be capped for all countries, to prevent member states from avoiding cuts in any one industry.

In addition, the proposal also allows countries to count cuts in emissions from the forestry sector against cuts expected from other non-ETS industries.

This is the first time emissions from forestry and farmland — known as the “land use” sector — can count toward EU emission targets. These emissions are regulated until 2020 under an international UN climate treaty, which is difficult to enforce and has been criticized for having little impact on global climate action.

The flexibility for the forestry industry varies in line with different economies across the EU.

Ireland, which depends heavily on forestry, will be allowed to reduce its overall target set today by up to 5.6 percentage points if it makes corresponding cuts in emissions from forestry.

Germany and the UK — the EU’s two largest economies — along with Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta and Slovakia, are each allowed to meet less than 1 percentage point of today’s target through forestry-industry changes.

The commission says it will monitor progress toward the new goals every year after the deal comes into force. If countries look set to miss their target, they’ll be asked to submit a national “action plan.”

A more formal “compliance check” will take place every five years, starting in 2027. EU officials say countries that miss their interim or 2030 targets could face legal action.

Transport emissions

Today’s proposal is accompanied by nonbinding guidance on reducing emissions from transport. A legal proposal setting new carbon-dioxide targets for vehicles — and ways to monitor these — is due next year.

Transport is responsible for more greenhouse-gas emissions than any other industry outside the ETS. It is also the only EU sector that has seen average emissions increase since 1990.

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