EU recommends ambitious 2040 climate target, goes light on farming

European Commission urges 90 percent cut to greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 as dozens of farmers protest.

Farmers protest with their tractors outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, February 6, 2024. REUTERS/Kate Abnett
Farmers protest with their tractors outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France [Kate Abnett/Reuters]

The European Commission has recommended that the European Union slash net greenhouse gas emissions by 90 percent by 2040, an ambitious target that will test political appetite for the region’s fight against climate change before 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 the Reuters news agency, had said agriculture would need to cut non-CO2 emissions 30 percent 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 on Tuesday. “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.”

In a sign of how politically fraught the environmental issue has become, with farmers venting their anger around the bloc, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen earlier gave key ground by burying a plan to halve chemical pesticide use by the end of this decade.

The proposal “has become a symbol of polarisation”, she acknowledged, with the legislation stalled amid divisions between EU lawmakers and member countries.

Tuesday’s announcements came as dozens of farmers protested outside the European Parliament building, angry over shrinking incomes, rising costs and what they say are increasingly onerous green regulations.

The 27-nation European Union is already working towards an interim target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent by 2030.

But rising discontent could deal it a tougher time in trying to get the 2040 goal of 90 percent cuts adopted.

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 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 aim is to keep EU 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 as farming, and as traditional industries face fierce green tech competition from China.

A 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 percent 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 ($2.6 trillion) in the EU by 2050 if global warming is not limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

The EU had reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 33 percent in 2022, from 1990 levels.

Source: News Agencies