(Bloomberg) -- European Union leaders plan to underscore the importance of the fight against climate change when they meet next week, though their words will stop short of a mandate to move toward zeroing out fossil fuel emissions by the middle of the century.
Heads of government will pledge “building a more climate-friendly, neutral, green, fair and inclusive future” in a strategic agenda for the next five years to be agreed at the summit in Brussels on June 21 and June 22. It’s their first regular gathering since European Parliament elections last month that brought a surge in support for environmentalist parties.
“As the effects of climate change become more visible and pervasive, we urgently need to step up our action to manage this existential threat,” according to a draft of the statement that the leaders plan to sign at the meeting. “The EU can and must lead the way, by engaging in an in-depth transformation of its own economy and society to achieve climate neutrality. This will have to be conducted in a way that takes account of national circumstances and is socially just.”
The draft won’t include a new political mandate necessary for the EU’s regulatory arm to start drafting legislation on new goals or tightening the existing ones. While the U.K. government this week pledged laws enforcing net-zero emissions by 2050, that goal pushed by the European Commission has divided EU governments.
In a separate political statement to be agreed at the summit, the leaders plan to say they will finalize their guidance on the commission’s proposal before the end of the year, “with a view to the adoption of the EU’s long-term strategy in early 2020.”
The commission’s blueprint was presented in November and is aimed at showing how determined the bloc is to honor the Paris climate accord’s targets, even in the face of President Donald Trump’s decision to take the U.S. out of the 2015 agreement signed by almost all other countries.
The bloc’s 28 member states haven’t managed to narrow down differences over the long-term net-zero emissions goal since they started talks about it earlier this year. The sticking points include the pace of emissions cuts and the energy sources and technologies to rely upon, as well as the means and ways of preserving jobs and competitiveness. At the meeting next week, leaders also are debating top EU appointments that the resurgent Green party is seeking to influence.
While a group of mainly western countries, including France, Spain, the Netherlands and Denmark endorses the goal, several predominantly east European nations demand further talks that take into account particular national conditions.
Germany, the biggest European economy and largest emitter of carbon dioxide, hasn’t taken a clear stance yet. Last month Chancellor Angela Merkel said she’ll put to her cabinet the proposals of the western countries that urge a move to net-zero emissions by 2050. The cabinet will assess if it’s possible to achieve the target with the help of carbon capture or natural “compensation” such as afforestation drives.
“After sitting on the fence for a considerable time, Merkel will have to prove her commitment and help bring all countries on board,” the environmental lobby Greenpeace EU said in a statement. “What is certain is that, as European students enter exam season on the back of a tumultuous year of climate protests, Europe’s political leaders will face a much tougher test of their climate credibility.”
(Updates with draft summit statement in the fifth paragraph.)
--With assistance from Jonathan Stearns.
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