EU Seeks New National Emission Limits in Brexit-Fallout Test

Updated on
  • European plan for sharing pollution cuts includes U.K.
  • British exit from bloc risks adding burden to other countries

European Union regulators proposed binding targets for EU nations to cut pollution in the transport, farm and building industries by 2030 in a climate-protection push that risks running into trouble over Britain’s planned exit from the bloc.

The European Commission, the EU’s regulatory arm, recommended varying emissions-reduction goals for individual member countries so the 28-nation bloc can reach its headline target for trimming discharges blamed for causing more frequent heat waves, storms and floods.

The draft law presented on Wednesday in Brussels applies to industries that are outside Europe’s emissions-trading market. All nations except Bulgaria would need to slash greenhouse-gas discharges by as much as 40 percent in 2030 compared with 2005 levels. The U.K. faces a proposed cut of 37 percent.

“We have to give a signal to industries that we are serious about our commitments,” EU Climate and Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete told reporters. “We have a balance with a fair distribution of efforts.”

Next Decade

Last month’s U.K. vote to leave the EU has clouded the outlook for a range of European policies including climate protection. Europe’s emissions-reduction target for the next decade could end up getting diluted because the remaining EU nations may balk at boosting their effort to compensate for Brexit.

The new proposals need the support of EU governments and the European Parliament in a process that can take two years or longer. The U.K. will participate in the negotiations and be required to take on new climate commitments until any secession talks with the EU are completed.

Once the EU shrinks, the remaining member states would need either to step up their ambition to uphold Europe’s headline goal of cutting greenhouse gases at least 40 percent by 2030 from 1990 levels or to loosen that target, risking international criticism.

The 40 percent reduction goal is Europe’s contribution to a global climate treaty reached in Paris last year by almost 200 nations. European leaders agreed in 2014 to distribute the burden on the basis of gross domestic product per capita.

Toughest Targets

Under the proposal covering sectors outside the emissions-trading system, or ETS, Luxembourg and Sweden were assigned the toughest targets of a 40 percent cut each. Bulgaria, the poorest EU country, would be permitted to keep emissions unchanged compared with 2005. Germany’s goal would be a 38 percent reduction, while Poland would need to cut by 7 percent.

All this is stricter than the previous EU climate pact for 2020 in which poorer nations were allowed to grow non-ETS emissions by between 1 percent and 20 percent and richer countries faced maximum cuts of 20 percent.

To make the new package more politically palatable, the commission proposed to let nine EU nations -- Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands and Sweden -- use some emissions-trading allowances slated for auction to help meet their 2030 non-ETS goals.

The commission also proposed to give all EU countries the right to earn some credits from forests to help comply with their 2030 targets. This is because the draft legislation treats forests as “sinks” that absorb greenhouse gases.

“These targets are realistic, fair and flexible,” Arias Canete said.

Following are the proposed country-specific targets for EU nations to limit greenhouse gases in 2030 compared with 2005, the ETS flexibility toward non-ETS goals and the forestry flexibility:

Country2030 target versus 2005ETS flexibility toward non-ETS (maximum percentage of 2005 emissions)Forestry flexibility (in millions of metric tons of CO2 equivalent)
Czech Republic-14%2.6
U.K. -37%17.8