Europe’s Climate Momentum Under Threat as Bloc Votes on Key Bill

One of the key pillars of the European Union’s blockbuster green deal is at risk of collapse in a crucial vote next week, a development that would dent the continent’s progress in efforts to cut its carbon emissions by more than half by the end of the decade.

(Bloomberg) — One of the key pillars of the European Union’s blockbuster green deal is at risk of collapse in a crucial vote next week, a development that would dent the continent’s progress in efforts to cut its carbon emissions by more than half by the end of the decade.

The nature restoration law — an ambitious plan to bring at least 20% of land and sea in the region back to its original state — is one of the last big pieces of legislation to be voted on as part of the bloc’s landmark climate agenda first put forward by the bloc in 2019. 

But the European People’s Party, a center-right amalgamation of parties from across EU countries that is the biggest in parliament, has tabled an amendment for the bill to be rejected outright.

Their argument is that it could harm food security on the continent in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and deepen the cost-of-living crisis. They also say it could jeapardize the bloc’s plans to scale up wind and solar farms and hamper efforts to tap critical raw materials, due to environmental concerns. 

“A good intention with a bad approach often leads to a poor result,” said Esther de Lange, EPP group vice-chairwoman in charge of environment at a press briefing. “I would suggest the commission takes this proposal back, clean up this act and do a more proper impact assessment.” 

While all the elements of the green deal have endured tough late-night talks, the latest battle shows that the bloc is now left with some of the most difficult — and politically sensitive — choices. The Nature Restoration law is set to directly impact farmers, which make up a powerful voting bloc in several EU countries. They’ve already put leaders on the defensive over efforts to make the sector more environmentally-friendly.

The hostile reception to the bill shows the potential difficulties the EU and the rest of the world face in tackling emissions from agriculture, one of the biggest drivers of climate change, and increasing biodiversity. Its failure could also embolden other groups and individuals to more rigorously pursue opposition to the seismic changes triggered by the green deal.

French President Emmanuel Macron has called for a pause in EU climate regulation, saying that changing rules would discourage investors. The country has also made a last-minute objection to a deal reached between parliament and member states to rapidly roll out renewables this decade over fears that its nuclear sector isn’t adequately accounted for.

On transport, eight EU nations — including France and Italy — have said that they oppose new exhaust emissions rules under the so-called Euro 7, arguing that it distracts from the bloc’s agreed goal of phasing out the combustion engine. That goal came into question earlier this year when Germany pushed the commission for assurances on e-fuels.

While the nature restoration law is primarily aimed at boosting biodiversity in the EU and protecting the region from the growing risk of droughts and floods, it also underpins efforts to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere through natural sinks like peatlands. If the proposal is rejected, the commission won’t come forward with another one, according to Virginijus Sinkevicius, the EU’s environment commissioner. 

Rejection would send a “very negative message” to the world about nature restoration and its role in solving the climate crisis, he said. The EU was one of the leaders in a landmark deal in Montreal last year to protect and restore at least 30% of the Earth’s land and water by 2030. The bloc is also pushing for a deal at this year’s COP28 climate conference to phase out all fossil fuels.

“Suddenly we have this shift, which for me is very difficult to understand — you cannot leave things halfway done,” Sinkevicius said in an interview this week. Failure of the bill would mean the EU may also have to re-think a package of measures due next month that addresses the region’s soil health and plants produced by new genomic techniques, he said.

A commission official dismissed claims from groups including the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce that the bill could hamper the rollout of renewables. Industry group WindEurope said in a statement it has no concerns and that clean energy and nature go “hand in hand.”

The vote in the environment committee next week is 50-50, according to Cesar Luena, the socialist lawmaker in charge of seeing the file through parliament. Much rests on how members of the liberal Renew group vote. If the law passes, it will go to a vote in the wider parliament, before talks start with EU countries.

“You have many who sell fear,” Sinkevicius said. “If there is no political willingness to implement the green deal, we have to also react to that.”

–With assistance from Petra Sorge.

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