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The EU is putting pressure on other big polluting countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions faster as it faces an internal fight about the bloc’s own climate targets.
Senior officials in Brussels told the Financial Times that they wanted large economies such as China, India and the US to share the burden as European consumers and industry begin to balk at the costs of the necessary green shift in the energy system.
The world’s largest emitters today are the US, China and India, followed closely by the EU.
The bloc’s share of global greenhouse gas emissions dropped from 16.8 per cent in 1990 to 7.3 per cent in 2021, according to European Commission data. The EU cut emissions by about a third, mainly as dirty coal in the electricity mix fell, while the share from China and India rose as energy demands increased.
But the EU is now struggling with internal discussions over setting a 2040 target to reduce emissions.
Geopolitical tensions over climate policies are rising as governments grapple with overstretched budgets, at the same time as extreme weather raises fears about global warming.
Global emissions need to fall by 43 per cent by 2030 to keep alive the Paris goal of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
The world remains on track for a temperature rise of between 2.4C and 2.6C by 2100, according to the UN Environment Programme.
US climate envoy John Kerry is restarting climate talks in China this week, after environment ministers from G20 countries, including China, met in Brussels on Thursday and Friday to set the agenda for the UN COP28 summit in the United Arab Emirates where a “global stock take” will take place.
The EU has committed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55 per cent in 2030 and reach net zero by 2050, with the 2040 goal intended as a milestone.
Draft text being prepared by EU countries ahead of COP28, seen by the FT, shows that a section committing the bloc to update its contribution from 55 per cent to 57 per cent is bracketed, meaning that it could be changed before the UN summit in December.
The EU’s main scientific advisory board has suggested that it should be set as high as 95 per cent.
But officials question whether it will be politically possible to increase the pace of change ahead of EU-wide elections next June.
EU diplomats said there were “difficult discussions” over the target with Poland and Romania among the bloc countries opposing an increase.
Others favour faster action. Jennifer Morgan, Germany’s special envoy on climate policy, said that the goal should not be “just a number — it should be a driver of modernisation and resilience of our companies and communities” This sentiment was shared by several EU environment ministers who discussed progress on climate change in Spain last week.
Lawmakers are concerned that a backlash against the green transition could grow as EU industry is squeezed by US competitors with lower energy costs and subsidies under the Inflation Reduction Act, and China’s dominance of the supply chain for green technologies.
“If we get China to commit to high emissions reduction targets it gives the EU space,” one EU official said.
The commission recently warned that without a high target “the EU would be at risk of missing its domestic climate objective for 2050 and possibly undermine its capacity to spur climate action internationally”.