European Climate Law - Back to the Future


On 4 March the European Commission has just presented a draft climate law. Its most important point is the commitment to achieve the EU's climate neutrality by 2050. But the Commission also announces an increase in the shorter term reduction target for 2030. This is an aspect that Poland needs to pay particular attention to, as we will not avoid discussing how to get closer to this target in next ten years.

The proposal for a European Climate Law was adopted by EU Commissioners and announced as a milestone in EU climate policy. Now the draft regulation will be assessed by the European Parliament and the Council, and negotiations will certainly not be easy.

  • The intention of European climate law is to make the EU's climate neutrality objective for 2050 legally binding. Now it is a political declaration. Meanwhile, the establishment of a legal basis will make it possible to take climate neutrality into account in EU regulations on industrial, agricultural, transport and other policies (climate mainstreaming). The specificities of certain sectors may be reflected in the legislation later on, as may the details of effort sharing. At this stage, the point is to take the goal itself.
  • The Commission proposes that from 2030 onwards it should have the right to set interim targets every 5 years. This is a complete change of approach from previous practice. The political discussion at the highest level would be replaced by delegated acts adopted by the European Commission, to which the Parliament and the Council may raise objections, and if they do not do so, the acts shall enter into force without modification.
  • As expected, climate law clarifies that the 2050 target will be set at the Union level, i.e. without the obligation to achieve neutrality by each and every Member State. This means, at least in theory, that some countries (e.g. Poland) will be able to achieve climate neutrality a bit later ―although others have to agree to it, because it means their greater effort.
  • However, it is not only 2050 that is at stake in the proposed regulation. Climate law creates a legal justification for tightening the reduction target already for 2030 so that the Union can be climate-neutral by mid-century. The Commission's proposed reduction for 2030 is 50%-55% (compared to 1990). The current target is 40%. An impact assessment plan of these changes  is to be published by September. However, it should be remembered that even without European climate law, the Commission can (and will) propose a higher target for 2030, and Poland should be prepared for this.
  • What effect will this have on energy sector in Poland? According to the National Centre for Emissions Management in Poland (KOBiZE) estimates, raising the target to 50% will mean that the sectors covered by the European Emissions Trading Scheme will have to reduce their emissions by 52% (compared to 2005), and if the target is even higher by another five percentage points, the reductions will have to reach 57%. It is worth noting that in 2018 Polish power plants and CHPs emitted only 6.6% less greenhouse gases than in 2005.

The new regulation for the time being is just a proposal. Can it stand a chance of being accepted in this from?―probably no. First of all, the matter itself, which the European Commission wants to regulate, is not easy. The reduction target for 2050 will be the subject of another debate at the June European Council, as Poland has not yet declared its feasibility. Similar laborious discussions await on increasing the target already for 2030.

Secondly, with regard to the governance system, the European Commission has aimed high. Not only has it planned that the EU's climate ambitions are to increase every 5 years, but above all that the EC wants to decide on their scale almost independently. It will be very difficult to obtain rapid agreement between the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament. Each of these institutions, and particularly the Member States in the Council, will defend their competences in climate and energy policy. This also calls into question the adoption of the climate law before COP26 in November. Nevertheless, there is no going back from the climate neutrality objective and the first sign of this will be a deepening of the emissions reduction target for 2030


Author: Aleksandra Gawlikowska-Fyk PhD, Head of the Power Project

Cooperation: Paweł Wróbel, Gate Brussels

Date of publication: 4 March 2020