Poland’s climate surprise pressures EU to pitch ambitious 2040 target

Poland wants Europe to know its days as the bloc’s top climate spoiler have come to an end.

Urszula Zielińska, a freshly appointed senior official in Poland’s new government, arrived in Brussels on Monday as officials began talks in earnest on the future of Europe’s Green Deal. Walking into the neoclassical Egmont Palace, she announced that Warsaw would now pursue ambitious climate action.

“I’m coming here with the message that Poland is stepping up its efforts on fighting climate change,” said Zielińska, the secretary of state at Poland’s environment ministry, which has just received a new influx of senior leaders following the nationalist Law and Justice party’s election loss last year.

Next up for the EU is a plan for how severely the bloc should cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 — and Zielińska surprised with an appeal for the EU to aim high despite a growing backlash against green legislation. She pushed for a target in line with advice from the EU’s scientific advisers, who have called for cuts of at least 90 percent.

The EU “absolutely needs to embrace ambitious targets, and we need to embrace the 90 percent emission reduction target,” she said, although she later clarified that Poland does not yet have an official position on the bloc’s 2040 target.

The comments were the latest — and, to date, most significant — sign that pressure is ratcheting up on the EU to deliver on the 90 percent recommendation. Thus far, only Denmark has publicly backed the 90 percent target, while Bulgaria has said the EU should at least “seriously discuss” the goal. So having coal-dependent Poland joining the chorus is a key addition. 

“We cannot go on like this, Europe or the rest of the world,” Zielińska said. “We’re not meeting the safe climate targets now, so we have to step up.” 

Reluctant capitals

But Poland’s tentative “embrace” won’t guarantee an ambitious 2040 target. 

As the European Parliament elections draw closer, the Continent’s appetite for more climate action has waned. 

The prospect of adding new rules and targets to the already massive Green Deal project has come under fire from fiscally austere and conservative politicians, and environmental policies have sparked protests in several countries. 

Hungary — which holds the Council of the EU’s rotating presidency in the second half of the year and has campaigned for less ambitious green legislation — intends to escalate the 2040 debate to the EU leaders’ summits in Brussels, where decisions are made by consensus and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán holds veto power.

“I’m coming here with the message that Poland is stepping up its efforts on fighting climate change,” said Zielińska, the secretary of state at Poland’s environment ministry | Olivier Matthys/EFE via EPA

“As we consider this question to be so important, both for society and for the economy, we think that the final decisions should be taken at the level of the European Council,” Anikó Raisz, Hungary’s state secretary for environment, told reporters ahead of Monday’s ministerial. 

She added: “We are of the view that realistic results have to be taken for 2040.” 

Several EU countries’ diplomats, granted anonymity to comment on internal discussions, told POLITICO last week that their governments have yet to finalize their positions, with one Eastern European diplomat describing the 2040 target as a “politically super sensitive issue.”

Even countries that have set themselves ambitious goals would not explicitly back a high target. 

“In Austria itself, we have already set ourselves the goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2040. We therefore also support an ambitious EU climate target for 2040 that is based on scientific facts,” said an Austrian environment ministry official, who declined to be named.

Germany, whose climate law mandates an 88 percent emissions cut by 2040, does not have a position yet, said Sven Giegold, a climate ministry state secretary who represented Berlin at Monday’s talks. The country’s coalition government has been split on key climate issues. 

But he suggested that Germany would support an ambitious 2040 target, saying: “The planet is burning, and that means that the targets we have set ourselves for 2030 are not enough.”

Looming challenges 

Many EU capitals are waiting for the European Commission, the EU’s executive, to release its official 2040 climate proposal on February 6 before taking an explicit stance. 

Yet the upcoming plan may not explicitly endorse a specific target. It will, however, include an analysis of the different options and a “communication” that may indicate a preference for one of them.

The 2040 plan is meant to serve as a stepping stone between the 2030 goal to slash emissions by 55 percent and the EU’s promise of reaching climate neutrality in 2050. Both of those markers are enshrined in European law. 

Next month’s assessment is expected to analyze three different options, said a Commission official, who was granted anonymity to discuss internal matters. 

One will be a 90 percent target, as recommended by the scientific advisory board, while another will assess an even more ambitious scenario. The Commission has also run a modeling exercise on a scenario where the EU fully implements its existing climate policies until 2040 without additional efforts. 

That final option “could already result in emissions reduction in the upper 80s,” the official told POLITICO, adding: “This shows 90 percent isn’t such a leap.” 

Still, even implementing existing policies will present a major challenge to the EU. A recent Commission assessment showed that the EU is only on track for a 51 percent emissions cut by 2030, four percentage points short of its legally binding target. 

This article was originally published by a www.politico.eu . Read the Original article here. .