EU Climate Law Makes Climate Goals Legally Binding


EU President Ursula von der Leyen addresses the Global Climate Summit

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

This week, European Union policymakers agreed to enshrine the bloc’s short- and long-term climate commitments. The European Climate Law takes the EU’s goals of reducing net emissions by 55% by 2030 and hitting climate neutrality by 2050 and makes them “legally binding and irreversible,” as German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze put it in Politico EU.  Although it still needs to be officially approved by the European Parliament and member countries. While the deal counts carbon removal through activities like growing forests that absorb CO2, there’s a limit on how much countries can rely on these carbon sinks. The focus is on tackling the source problem by cutting emissions.  

Why This Matters: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen made clear at the Global Climate Summit yesterday that Europe wants to be “the first climate-neutral continent in the world,” and said that they had written it “into stone… to make Europe climate-neutral by 2050.”  It also is a step toward aligning the EU’s funding mechanism toward a carbon-free future: not just building renewable energy but reducing emissions across transportation, agriculture, and industry. “Within a few short years every single sector will have to be rapidly transformed in order for us to achieve our climate targets,” Financial Services Commissioner Mairead McGuinness told Politico EU

Emission Reduction Math

Yesterday, President Biden formally pledged the U.S. would cut emissions by at least 50% by 2030. It’s a welcome commitment, but the comparison between the EU’s 55%  isn’t a simple five percentage points apart. The U.S. is using 2005 as its emissions baseline, while the EU is using 1990 levels. As the New York Times writes, “The later baseline makes the United States target look a bit better, because it omits a period when emissions were rising. An earlier baseline makes Europe look more ambitious, since it has been cutting for longer.” If both countries used 2005 as the baseline, the percentage cuts would be nearly identical; if both used 1990 baselines, the US would be slicing emissions by 43% compared to the EU’s 55. 

Another way to look at the math is per-person emissions, and here the U.S. leads the world by a long shot. Americans average 17.6 tons of CO2, with China second at 10.1 and the EU third at 7.4. And if every country actually hit their targets at the end of the decade, America and China’s emission levels would converge, but would still be double the EU’s. 

To Go Deeper: This New York Times side-by-side comparison of how the U.S.’ pledge stacks up against other major emitters is worth your time.

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