Poland, which relies on coal for 80% of its electricity, is angling for more precise and generous commitments of EU funds to move away from fossil fuels before it agrees to implement the target. “Poland will be reaching climate neutrality at its own pace,”
European Union leaders have vowed to press on with a major economic plan to confront the climate emergency, despite Poland’s opt-out from a net-zero emissions target by 2050.
The Polish prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, told journalists he had secured an exemption for Poland on the 2050 target, which is meant to become the legally binding centrepiece of the “European Green Deal” , a plan to transform Europe’s economy announced two days ago.
Poland, which relies on coal for 80% of its electricity, is angling for more precise and generous commitments of EU funds to move away from fossil fuels before it agrees to implement the target. “Poland will be reaching climate neutrality at its own pace,” Morawiecki said.
Morawiecki had even floated the idea that Poland should be able to meet the target in 2070, an idea shot down in the leaders’ talks that ran hours over schedule.
The European council president, Charles Michel, who wanted a success at his first summit in the chair, declared victory on the 2050 target, despite the ambiguity about Poland. “Climate neutrality by 2050 is our common goal,” he told journalists after 10 hours of talks. “But at the same time it is correct that for one member state, at this stage, it is not possible to commit to implement this objective.”
He added: “It is very important for the European Union, the strong message today is we want to become the first climate neutral continent by 2050.”
Leaders expect Poland to sign up to implementing the target in June.
The French president Emmanuel Macron tweeted: “Yes Europe will be the first carbon neutral continent! We did it together last night. Let’s move on now to implement the green new deal.”
Asked whether the EU had a common goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, one diplomat said “nearly”, adding: “It’s not the strongest political signal you could give. You have 27 saying they support it and Poland saying we don’t object if the others support it.”
A greater diplomatic embarrassment was narrowly averted – following a previous failure to agree the target in June – via some linguistic gymnastics in the EU summit text.
“The European council [of EU leaders] endorses the objective of achieving a climate-neutral EU by 2050, in line with the objectives of the Paris agreement. One member state, at this stage, cannot commit to implement this objective as far as it is concerned, and the European council will come back to this in June 2020,” states the text, which was agreed after hours of wrangling over timetables and money.
The European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said Poland’s position would not deter the commission from moving ahead with the next steps of the green deal.
She has promised to publish details of a €100bn (£83bn) “just transition fund” in January to help European economies make the green transition, in addition to €1tn the European Investment Bank has said it plans to generate from public and (mostly) private sources.
Von der Leyen said she accepted it was necessary for Poland “to have a closer look” at the details of the just transition fund.
EU leaders were more successful in bringing into the fold two other countries that had previously opposed the target: the Czech Republic and Hungary. Both want generous guarantees of EU funds for their green transition.
The Czech prime minister, Andrej Babiš, who had gone into the summit discussion “all guns blazing”, according to one diplomatic source, came onboard after an agreement that nuclear energy could be referenced in the summit text.
He claimed: “Nuclear energy is clean energy, without any emissions. And I don’t know why a lot of countries have a problem with this.”
EU member states are free to choose whether to use nuclear power, but the debate over the controversial energy source bogged down the discussions for hours, with Luxembourg’s anti-nuclear government opposed to any reference in a climate text.
The tense discussion on the 2050 target heralds even more difficult talks on agreeing tougher greenhouse gas reduction targets for 2030. The commission wants to cut the EU’s emissions by at least 50% by 2030 (compared with 1990 levels), but that requires member states taking decisive steps to decarbonise their economies in the short term.
Campaigners said the EU’s decision fell short of the action needed. “A target 30 years in the future in 2050 does not represent emergency action, and it absolutely must be matched with immediate action to dramatically reduce climate emissions everywhere,” Susann Scherbarth, climate justice spokesperson for Friends of the Earth Europe, said in a statement.
“The huge demonstrations of people calling for climate justice know that all of Europe must phase out all fossil fuels, including gas, in the next decade – today’s announcement won’t reassure them of a safer future.
“Like the green deal unveiled by the European commission yesterday, this promise risks being too late and too vague on details how it will be achieved.”