EU climate goals ‘just a collection of buzzwords’, say critics

youth climate protesters in brussels in may 2019
Youth climate protesters in Brussels in May 2019. The EU’s plans have come under fire for prioritising economic growth over the environment. Photograph: Benoît Doppagne/AFP/Getty

Document setting out agenda for next five years denounced by environmental campaigners for skimping on detail

— A leaked document on the EU’s priorities has been criticised as offering little more than “a collection of buzzwords” to tackle the climate crisis and accelerating the destruction of the natural world.

EU leaders are due to adopt a “strategic agenda” for 2019-24 at a Brussels summit starting on 20 June, but a draft has encountered a volley of criticism from some green groups, who accuse officials of lacking urgency.

The five-page document, drawn up by the team of Donald Tusk, the European council president, is intended to set the bloc’s priorities for the next five years in an “increasingly unsettled [and] complex” world.

Spanning migration, trade and the EU’s place in the world, the document avoids details such as targets, budget numbers or specific countries. While it describes the climate crisis as an existential threat and calls for an “in-depth transformation of [the EU’s] own economy and society to achieve climate neutrality”, some campaigners say it lacks ambition.

The document states that EU policies should be consistent with the Paris agreement, but spells out little detail about what that means.

Under the Paris agreement, the EU has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030 (compared with 1990 levels). The bloc also aims to get at least 32% of energy from renewable sources and increase energy efficiency by at least 32.5% by the same date. Last year, the European commission called for the EU to be “climate neutral” by 2050 in order to keep global heating below the UN’s 1.5°C target (equivalent to a rise of 2.7F).

The campaign group WWF said the EU needed to hit net zero emissions 10 years sooner, in 2040. “Given the ecological emergency we are facing, climate action and nature loss must be prioritised in the coming mandate – but such promises are meaningless without fixed timelines for the EU to reach net zero emissions by 2040 and halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030,” said Ester Asin, director of WWF’s European policy office.

“The strategic agenda is critical in that it will help guide the next commission president,” she said. Asin added that the next European parliament – which will have a record number of Green MEPs – should vote only for a commission president who has “a clear work programme on climate action, environment and sustainability”.

Greenpeace criticised the absence of any mention of food production, when livestock farming accounts for between 13%-17% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions. The EU farming sector has seen no decline in emissions since 2010 and benefits from £24bn in public subsidies through the common agricultural policy.

“European leaders are feeling the pressure to talk big on climate, but their strategic agenda is more of a collection of buzzwords than an emergency response to humanity’s greatest threat,” Greenpeace’s EU director, Jorgo Riss, said. “This list of contradictory proposals suggests European leaders will prioritise economic growth in much the same way as before, driving social inequalities and fuelling the climate and ecological crisis even further.”

Other campaigners were more encouraged. Ariel Brunner, senior head of policy at BirdLife International, said the text covered most of the bases for a turn in a progressive direction. “This text, while still a bit vague, does suggest a real commitment to building a sustainable society, starting by addressing the twin crisis of climate breakdown and biodiversity collapse” he said.

“Now actions must follow, starting with setting up a new commission able and willing to address the crisis through strong legal proposals, strict enforcement of legislation, and bold reform of broken policies such as the CAP.”

The text is likely to undergo further changes before it is presented to EU leaders at a Brussels summit next week. That gathering is scheduled to be the last one attended by Theresa May as prime minister, but the document gives no opening to discuss Brexit.

Without mentioning the tortured process of the UK’s exit, it expresses hope for an EU trade policy that is “robust, ambitious and balanced” as well as “based on reciprocity and mutual benefits”.

Elsewhere, the document sets goals that reflect longstanding British priorities within the EU, such as developing the single market in services.

The text also seeks to boost the EU on the world stage, declaring that “the EU needs to be more assertive and more powerful” to defend its interests and values. To achieve these goals, it calls on EU member states to be more united in foreign policy and spend more on defence.

On the issue of migration, the paper stresses control of external borders and calls on countries “to find a way through” long-running disputes on asylum policy – without suggesting how to break the deadlock.


by Jennifer Rankin | The Guardian

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