EU's ambitious 2050 climate goal relegated to a footnote

Activists hoped EU leaders would make a decisive move on climate change at the summit following large-scale protests.

    EU states were unable to reach an agreement on carbon neutrality by 2050 [File: Raffi Maghdessian/Aurora Photos via Getty Images]
    EU states were unable to reach an agreement on carbon neutrality by 2050 [File: Raffi Maghdessian/Aurora Photos via Getty Images]

    A push by European Union countries for the world's biggest economic bloc to become carbon-neutral by 2050 was dropped to a footnote at a summit in Brussels, drawing widespread anger from activists demanding immediate climate action.

    The leaders of the bloc's member states met on Thursday for secret deliberations in an attempt to reach a consensus on who should fill the EU's top jobs. 

    In the final statement following the summit, which stretched on into the early hours of Friday, the non-binding footnote read: "For a large majority of Member States, climate neutrality must be achieved by 2050."

    European Commission President Donald Tusk told reporters the "vast majority" of countries is committed to the plan, but reaching unanimity was "not possible today".

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    "We have good reason to believe this may change as no country ruled out the possibility of a positive decision in the coming months," Tusk said.

    All 28 member states must back a plan for it to become an official target. The lack of decision exposed a rift between western and eastern member states on climate change. 

    According to French President Emmanuel Macron and several diplomats, 24 countries including the United Kingdom, France and Germany supported the initiative but were held back by Poland and three other countries that heavily depend on fossil-fuel economies. 

    'Black day' for Europe

    Activists had hoped that EU leaders would make a decisive statement on climate change at the summit.

    It follows high-profile demonstrations in Europe - including the Extinction Rebellion rallies in London and Fridays for Future strikes conceived by Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg - to urge political leaders to act more decisively on climate change over the last year. 

    Green parties were the big winners in May's European Parliament elections, riding a wave of public concern over climate change. 

    Environmental group Greenpeace said the leaders had blown the chance to agree on a deal and called on the EU to arrange an emergency meeting before the United Nations Climate Action summit in New York City in September.

    "This is a black day for climate protection in Europe," Greenpeace spokesman Stefan Krug said. "A small number of Eastern European countries prevented Europe's impasse on climate protection from being broken.

    "The climate strikes by tens of thousands of students and the election choices of millions of Europeans for more climate protection were ignored," he said.

    Before the summit, Greenpeace activists in Brussels projected an image of the Earth as a bomb with a lit fuse onto the European Commission headquarters. 

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    The EU said there was still time to persuade the eastern countries to agree to the text.

    Macron, who two years ago launched the One Planet Summit aimed at speeding up the implementation of the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement, vowed to continue to fight within the EU and at next week's G20 summit in Japan.

    "When you fight, when you move forward, you manage to make the club get bigger and to make progress," Macron said.

    'Quicker to elect the pope'

    The EU leaders were also unsuccessful in choosing who should steer the EU, with Macron blocking German Chancellor Angela Merkel's pick for president of the European Commission.

    All of the bloc's leading jobs are changing hands this year, prompting a jostling between member states, with power centres in Berlin and Paris clashing over who should helm the commission, while Paris and Madrid are pushing for more prominent EU postings for liberal and socialist candidates after a change of the parliamentary guard. 

    "It's quicker to elect the pope very often than it is to fill these particular positions," Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar joked.

    The EU leaders will meet again on June 30.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies