(Bloomberg) — Postponing the annual round of global climate talks reduces political pressure for nations to stiffen their goals to cut greenhouse gases, a major setback to the environmental movement.
The pivotal round of United Nations negotiations involving almost 200 countries was scheduled for November in Scotland and was delayed because of the coronavirus, which has triggered draconian limits on public gathering. The meeting, known as COP26, will be set for 2021.
This year’s gathering was set to take in more ambitious pledges for curtailing the fossil-fuel pollution that damages the atmosphere. Countries set out initial proposals when they negotiated the Paris Agreement in 2015 and were scheduled to update those this year. Delaying the meeting will push back that milestone. For the European Union, which is considering the most sweeping changes, the delay reduces pressure for immediate action.
“The EU is already torn between its climate ambition and the immediate need to mitigate the crisis, with the latter being the priority for many states,” said Lidia Wojtal, a Berlin-based climate expert, who has been involved in the global talks since 2007. “The postponement of COP26 may lower the expectations to quickly review EU’s 2030 target, especially that it is not likely that other countries will move forward any time soon.”
The viral crisis hit as the EU was starting to enact its ambitious Green Deal strategy to become the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050. That program envisages dozens of measures to accelerate reductions of greenhouse-gases, including a plan to toughen the 2030 goal to a cut of 50 or even 55%. The current target is to cut discharges by 40% compared with 1990 levels.
Plans to stiffen the goal should be “relatively unchallenged, if a bit delayed” should the crisis last no more than a couple of years and be coupled with some stimulus measures, according to BloombergNEF. If a major recession pushes green policies down the agenda, then “2030 targets would not be raised, and the gap between ambitious and less ambitious countries would widen,” BNEF analysts wrote in a research note on Thursday.
The European Commission is planning to propose a new target for 2030 in September, after a deep analysis of how tougher emission-reduction policies would impact the economy.
The new objective was meant not only to kickstart the green transition at home but also prove to other nations at the UN talks in Glasgow that the EU remains the global leader in the fight against climate change. The hope was that with the EU delivering more action on climate change that China and eventually the U.S. would follow.
The commission has been under pressure from some lawmakers, including Pascal Canfin, the chair of the European Parliament’s environment committee, to bring forward the proposal so that it could be adopted by the assembly and national governments before November. While this deadline is no longer valid, the EU’s executive is not planning to slow down.
“The work that the commission is doing to present by September 2020 an impact-assessed plan to raise the EU’s 2030 ambitions and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50% to 55% compared to 1990 levels is on track, and the commission will stick to that,” Frans Timmermans, the EC executive vice president in charge of the Green Deal, said late on Wednesday.
A proposal to tighten the 2030 target is set to be part of a law to make the 2050 climate-neutrality goal irreversible. To become binding, it will need qualified majority backing from national governments and majority support in the European Parliament.
(Updates with BNEF comments in the sixth paragraph)
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