EU 'not on track' to meet 2030 climate goals despite trade threat

The Morrison government’s plan to meet its cuts by using “carry-over credits” earned through the Kyoto Protocol is unpopular with progressive members of the European Parliament (MEPs) who see it as a way for Australia to circumvent its obligations under the Paris agreement.

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France has publicly tied Australia’s domestic climate change policies to a proposed free trade agreement with the EU, earning a sharp rebuke from Trade Minister Simon Birmingham who has previously declared the tactic “unprecedented”.

But in a newly released report, Eurostat – the European Commission’s statistics agency – said while the bloc had achieved its goal of a 20 per cent cut to emissions by 2020, it was “not on track” to secure a 40 per cent reduction by 2030.

Eurostat found the EU had recorded a 1.2 per cent annual fall in emissions between 2003 and 2018, when a 1.7 per cent annual reduction was actually needed to meet the 2030 target.

Emissions declined by an even smaller 0.5 per cent a year between 2013 and 2018, largely due to a rise in greenhouse gas pollution between 2014 and 2017.

“Because of this slowdown in emissions reductions, the EU is currently not on track to meet its 40 per cent target by 2030,” Eurostat said.

The EU is planning to lift the 40 per cent target to between 50 and 55 per cent under a plan known as the European Green Deal. The doubt over whether the EU can reach its existing 2030 target let alone a much higher one highlights the huge task ahead if the bloc is to achieve even deeper cuts.

A core plank of the European Green Deal is that the EU would not ratify trade agreements unless the accords include a binding commitment of each party to implement the Paris agreement. A failure to meet the targets could trigger financial penalties.

The doubt over whether the EU is on track to meet its own targets has been noted by officials in Canberra as negotiations continue over the terms of a free trade agreement.

Asked about the Eurostat report, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said: “Australia is committed to meeting and exceeding our 2030 targets, just as we have met and exceeded each of our earlier emissions reduction targets.”

He said cooperation around emerging low-emissions technologies under a trade deal could help Australia and the EU “meet and exceed emissions reduction targets into the future”.

Eurostat noted that its findings did not take into account the impact of potential new measures over the coming years to accelerate progress. EU officials have previously argued a raft of new energy and climate plans by member nations could lead to a reduction of about 45 per cent by 2030.

The EU’s commissioner for the economy, Paolo Gentiloni, said the bloc had achieved progress on some areas of the environment but conceded “there are still challenges”.

“The EU has already reached its 20 per cent greenhouse gas emissions reduction target for 2020. If we follow this path, and the planned measures contained in national energy and climate plans, we are projected to meet our 2030 greenhouse gas target.”

A separate report released in December the European Environment Agency warned the EU would not achieve its 2030 target without “urgent action during the next 10 years”.

Bevan Shields is the Europe correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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