Poland Blocks Merkel’s Push to End EU Carbon Emissions by 2050
(Bloomberg) -- Poland blocked a push endorsed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel for the European Union to end greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, setting a sour tone for a summit that ended with a failure to decide who’s going to lead the bloc’s key institutions.
Before the gathering, Merkel allied with the heads of several mostly western EU states to support advancing a plan to reach zero net emissions by the middle of the century. Poland, endorsed by Hungary and the Czech Republic, derailed that plan in a heated discussion at the start of the summit in Brussels on Thursday. The 2050 deadline was dropped from the leaders’ statement and got reduced to a footnote backed by a “large majority” of members.
“We were very firmly defending our interests,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters after the talks. “Poland is one of those countries that must first have a very detailed compensation packages. We must know how much we can get for modernization.”
The move underscores the differences among EU member states on key policy issues as the bloc is facing a decision about top jobs for the next five years. Poland and some other eastern nations have been at odds with more ambitious western countries, including France, Sweden, Spain and the Netherlands, over the pace of emissions cuts and which energy sources and technologies should be encouraged.
Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said after the summit ended on Friday that the EU will continue work on the long-term strategy as a “number of climate policy related decisions can be taken by a majority” of member states.
The 28-nation bloc already has a target to cut greenhouse gases by at least 40% by 2030 compared with 1990 levels. A final decision at the summit needed unanimity, a requirement that proved unachievable amid concerns by the three eastern members that further aggressive limits on fossil fuels will hurt their businesses and undermine competitiveness.
Their stance met with frustration of some western leaders campaigning for advancing work on the long-term climate strategy. The plan to move toward zero net emissions by 2050 was first outlined by the European Commission in November and aimed at showing how determined the bloc is to honor the Paris Agreement on climate change, even as President Donald Trump pulls the U.S. out of the 2015 deal.
At the summit, Morawiecki set the scene for the climate talks with a warning that his country couldn’t live with the 2050 deadline, according to diplomats with knowledge of the discussions. His Czech counterpart Andrej Babis voiced concerns over European competitiveness amid lack of comparable efforts by other countries, including China. Hungary’s President Viktor Orban endorsed the Polish leader’s view, hinting at the costs needed for green transformation.
The west disagreed. French President Emmanuel Macron called for ambition before a United Nations climate summit in New York in September. The Netherlands argued a shift to green economy will create jobs. And Latvian Prime Minister, Krisjanis Karins, said that the transition to low-carbon was “one hell of an opportunity.”
Estonia, initially endorsing the stance of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, made a u-turn during the talks and backed the 2050 deadline.
Merkel was very diplomatic, trying to express understanding and at the same time citing the urgency of climate change, particularly for young people. For the chancellor, the heat is on to speed up Germany’s own drive to cut emissions. The opposition Greens have surged past her Christian Democrat-led bloc to lead in recent polls. Merkel told her caucus this month that the government can no longer afford an “easy-peasy” approach on climate change.
The ambitious countries offered changes in the summit statement, including a wording that could translate into more funding for Poland and its allies, but that didn’t work. At some point they also considered a separate statement to support climate neutrality by 2050 but that idea was rejected by President Donald Tusk, who presided over the talks.
The final version of the summit statement calls for finalizing “guidance” on the long-term strategy by the end of this year and adopting it in early 2020.
(Updates with EU Commission president in the fifth paragraph.)
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