EU leaders to debate push for zero emissions by 2050

Brussels (AFP) –


EU leaders will this week discuss setting a target of zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, European officials said Monday, following elections that highlighted climate fears.

European Union leaders meeting Thursday and Friday in Brussels will debate the 2050 target of "climate neutrality" that the environmental group WWF says now has the support of 16 of the EU's 28 countries.

"As the effects of climate change become more visible and pervasive, we urgently need to step up our action to manage this existential threat," a draft of the EU's strategic agenda for the next six years says.

"The EU can and must lead the way, by engaging in an in-depth transformation of its own economy and society to achieve climate neutrality," according to the draft, which was obtained by AFP.

The draft contained a footnote saying the wording may be adjusted to reflect the results of the summit debate, which an EU source said would focus on the 2050 target.

The source told AFP on condition of anonymity that a number of EU countries still want to discuss ways to finance the transformation from an economy dependent on fossil fuels to one driven by clean energy.

"There is a huge difference in cost for Sweden and Romania. Eastern Europeans are not necessarily against the target," the source said, referring to the region's dependence on coal-fired plants.

He added: "I'm sure everyone will agree on this target, but only in December," when the leaders hold their annual year-end summit.

- 'On board' -

The growing stress on climate action comes after May 23-26 elections to the European Parliament where Green parties made massive gains.

Spurred by a wave of student strikes, voters in many countries put climate at the top of their concerns and the parliament's main political blocs for the first time adopted climate action as a rallying cry.

The World Wildlife Fund said Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Britain are "on board" for the 2050 goal.

The British government last week presented draft legislation to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 in what it said would be a first for a major economy.

The WWF said Austria and Ireland appeared increasingly likely to support the target.

Still uncertain or hesitant, it added, are Belgium, Croatia, Estonia, Lithuania and Slovakia, though they are "unlikely to block" it.

It said Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria remain "strongly opposed," but Hungary and Romania could overcome opposition to do a deal.

Under the 2015 Paris climate change treaty, the EU pledged to reduce its carbon emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

The 195-nation UN pact sealed in Paris calls for capping the rise in Earth's temperature at "well under" two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), and 1.5C if possible.