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Delivering climate neutrality- the European Climate Law

  • Europe
  • Environment


On 4 March 2020, the European Commission adopted its eagerly awaited European Climate Law proposal which will enshrine into EU legislation the European Union’s commitment to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 (the “2050 Objective”). The 2050 Objective reflects commitments under the Paris Agreement and is central to the European Green Deal, published in December 2019, which sets out the Commission’s commitment to tackling climate change and environmental related challenges. This development comes as the effects of climate change have been clear for all to see, particularly over the last year, from bush fires to wide spread flooding.

The Commission has proposed that the European Climate Law would be best pursued through a regulation, meaning the legislation would be directly applicable to Member States. The proposal includes the following key provisions:

  • Article 2 sets a legally binding target to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, requiring EU institutions and Member States to collectively take measures necessary to meet the 2050 Objective;
  • Article 2 also requires the Commission to review the EU’s 2030 target for greenhouse gas emission reductions and by June 2021, review and revise where necessary all relevant policy to ensure consistency with the European Climate Law and to ensure the 2030 emissions reduction target is achieved. Policy to be reviewed includes the European Emissions Trading Scheme Directive, the Renewable Energy Directive and the Energy Efficiency Directive;
  • Article 3 gives the Commission powers to set a trajectory from 2030 to 2050 to achieve carbon neutrality;
  • Article 4 requires EU institutions and Member States to ensure continuous progress is made towards adapting to climate change, with Member States required to develop and implement adaptation strategies;
  • Articles 5 and 6 require the Commission to assess, by September 2023, progress towards: the targets, the consistency of EU and national measures with the 2050 Objective and the 2030 to 2050 trajectory. Thereafter, such assessments must take place every 5 years;
  • Article 6 requires the Commission to issue recommendations to Member States should its assessment find their actions are inconsistent with the 2050 Objective. Member States must take into account such recommendations or explain their reasoning if they fail to do so.

Going forwards, the European Union will be obliged to take the 2050 Objective into account in all future policy and legislation. However, it remains to be seen whether climate neutrality will be the “European destiny” that is envisaged. The Commission is accepting feedback on its proposal for the regulation until 1 May 2020.

Public participation

The Commission simultaneously launched a public consultation on the European Climate Pact which is intended to allow EU citizens and stakeholders an opportunity to get involved in designing new climate actions, sharing information and launching grassroots climate action initiatives. This builds upon Article 8 of the proposed European Climate Law which requires the Commission to engage all parts of society to enable and empower them to take action towards climate neutrality. The consultation will close on 27 May 2020 and the responses provided will shape the Climate Pact which will be launched prior to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) which is due to take place in Glasgow in November 2020.

UK impact?

During the transition period (i.e. until the 31 December 2020), the UK continues to be subject to EU law. In any event, the UK remains a signatory to the Paris Agreement and has made its own national commitments under the Climate Change Act 2008 to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. Equally, in light of the commitments given in the current draft of the Environment Bill, it would be prudent to assume the UK will follow suit to some degree with regard to future commitments to achieve carbon neutrality.