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News 23 January 2024

Top story of the week: Member states gear up for 2040 climate target talks

The European Commission is set to unveil its proposed climate target for 2040 on 6 February. While the bloc is committed to reducing carbon emissions by 55% compared to 1990 levels by 2030 and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, this intermediary target is considered the “legacy” of the EU policymakers currently in charge, and it will undoubtedly shape the direction of climate and energy initiatives for the incoming College of Commissioners and the European Parliament, both taking office in the second half of the year.

Early discussions and statements by Commissioners Hoekstra and Šefčovič have suggested a target of a 90% reduction, aligning with recommendations from the scientific community and environmental groups. However, the European Commission’s proposal will undergo the ordinary legislative procedure, with the European Parliament and the Council of the EU expected to provide input and negotiate a compromise.

On 15 January, EU Environment ministers gathered for their first Council meeting of the year to exchange views on the topic, alongside discussions on resilience to climate disruptions and risks. Ahead of these early talks, Denmark announced its firm support for the 90% emission reduction goal by 2040, and Poland and Bulgaria signalled their openness to discussing such a target. On the other hand, Hungary, set to take over the Presidency of the Council of the EU after Belgium in July, has long expressed scepticism around climate issues and warned that national specificities should be taken into account when setting this target. The country also suggested that the decision should rest solely in the hands of member states and be the result of a unanimous vote. Additionally, some of the Union’s larger member states, including France, Italy, and Germany, whose positions tend to hold significant weight, have yet to take a public stance.

Traditionally, Ireland, Finland, Sweden, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Spain have supported high climate ambitions and are expected to back the target. At this stage, however, it is difficult to predict where the Council’s opinion will land. Uncertainty lies ahead, as no fewer than eight member states are scheduled to hold national elections in the next twelve months when interinstitutional negotiations typically take one to two years.