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EU recommends ambitious 2040 climate target, goes light on farming

spanish farmers' protests against rising costs, green rules, in medina
Farmers block an N-II road with their tractors in Medina near Girona, Spain

By Kate Abnett

The European Commission recommended on Tuesday that the EU slash net greenhouse gas emissions by 90 per cent by 2040, an ambitious target that will test political appetite for the region’s fight against climate change ahead of EU elections.

While the overall target was within the range recommended by the EU’s official climate science advisers, the EU executive weakened part of the recommendation concerning agriculture, in response to weeks of protests by farmers angry about EU green rules, among other complaints.

A previous draft of the EU target, seen by Reuters, had said agriculture would need to cut non-CO2 emissions 30 per cent by 2040 from 2015 levels, to comply with the overall climate goal. That was removed from the final draft.

“We need to make sure we have a balanced approach,” European Commissioner Wopke Hoekstra told the European Parliament, as he unveiled the proposal. “The vast majority of our citizens sees the effects of climate change, does want protection, but is also worried about what that implies for their livelihood.”

Tuesday’s proposal will kick off political debate on the target, but it will be up to a new EU Commission and Parliament, formed after EU elections in June, to pass the final target.

Polls show the election could deliver a major shift to the right in the EU Parliament, which could make passing ambitious climate policies harder.

Drawn up amid political pushback on green laws from some EU governments and lawmakers, the EU plan focused on building an edge in European clean-tech industries, and maintaining public support for climate policy as the EU heads into the elections.

The Commission said the EU should set an economy-wide 2040 target for 90 per cent net greenhouse gas cuts compared with 1990 levels, confirming drafts of the recommendation previously reported by Reuters.

The aim is to keep European Union countries on track between the EU’s existing 2030 climate goal and its long-term aim of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

Europe’s climate agenda is entering a difficult phase as it begins to touch sensitive sectors, such farming, and as traditional industries face fierce green tech competition from China.

second EU document, also published on Tuesday, outlined plans to capture and store hundreds of millions of tons of CO2 emissions by 2050 – one of many areas requiring huge investment in new technologies.

The 2040 target would transform Europe’s energy mix, with coal-fuelled power phased out and overall fossil fuel use reduced by 80% and replaced with renewable and nuclear power.

The draft also laid out the cost of failing to tackle climate change, in the form of more destructive extreme weather which could mean additional costs of 2.4 trillion euros in the EU by 2050 if global warming is not limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

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