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The EU Just Passed a Law to Hit Net Zero by 2050 — But Greta Thunberg Says It’s ‘Surrender’

Why Global Citizens Should Care
The UN’s Global Goals include Goal 12 for responsible consumption and production, and Goal 13 for climate action. Setting ambitious targets for countries around the world to hit net-zero emissions is a vital part of achieving these goals and tackling the climate crisis. But those targets must be twinned with the present urgency to decrease carbon emissions. Join the movement by taking environmental action here

While Greta Thunberg watched on, the European Union (EU) has passed its long-awaited climate law that officially enshrines its 2050 net zero emissions target into law.

The “European Green Deal” passed on Wednesday, and is being celebrated by some as having unified 27 member states towards climate action. 

“We are turning words into action today, to show our European citizens that we are serious about reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050,” Timmermans said in a press statement released on Wednesday. 

“The European climate law is also a message to our international partners that this is the year to raise global ambition together, in the pursuit of our shared Paris Agreement goals,” he added. “The climate law will ensure we stay focused and disciplined, remain on the right track and are accountable for delivery.”

But activists including Thunberg have voiced exasperation that plans for the future will be akin to “surrender” unless there’s a strategy to lower emissions in the here and now. 

One of the key criticisms of the new law is that, while it legislates for a long term commitment to achieve net zero by 2050, it doesn’t currently include a target to lower its carbon emissions by 2030.

That’s despite a letter sent this week from 12 EU countries to Frans Timmermans — the executive vice president-designate of the European Commission, leading the European Green Deal — urging him to lead by example and update the EU’s 2030 commitment “as soon as possible and by June 2020 at the latest”.

The urgency of the 2030 target is connected to a number of summits over the course of this year that have the potential to be turning points in the fight against the climate crisis.

In November, Britain is planning the largest summit it’s ever hosted, as the UN Climate Change Conference, known COP26, comes to Glasgow. It’s been hailed as the most important climate conference since the Paris Agreement — with 30,000 delegates and 200 world leaders likely to be in attendance to discuss how global climate commitments can be met or even accelerated.

And in September, just weeks before COP26, the EU-China Summit could lay the foundations to determine how successful COP26 will be. China is a crucial stakeholder in global carbon emissions — and the letter from EU countries argued that it was vital to have agreed on a 2030 target well before the EU goes to China to convince them to meet their ambition.

Read More: Glasgow to Host the Most Important Gathering on Climate Change Since the Paris Agreement

But the present plan will only pursue a 2030 target after a “comprehensive impact assessment” takes place. The Guardian reports that the target will likely come later than September — something that Sebastian Mang, Greenpeace EU climate policy adviser, told Global Citizen would be “too little, too late”, leaving the EU turning up to COP26 in Glasgow “empty-handed.”

“Science tells us that the emission cuts we make today and in the next decade are what will determine whether we avoid the worst of climate breakdown,” Mang said. “The EU Commission’s plan amounts to kicking the can down the road — they need to urgently update it to start tackling the climate emergency sooner, not later,” he added.

That call to action was backed by a further open letter from 34 youth climate activists including Greta Thunberg, published on Tuesday, that urged the EU to take its carbon budgets seriously.

“If you are to reach the commitments you signed up for in the Paris Agreement our carbon emissions must eventually come to an end,” the letter reads. “And science tells us that process must — drastically — start today.”

Right now there's already a commitment in EU law to cut carbon emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2030. Although the European Commission itself has suggested revising that figure to over 50%, that aim played no part in the passed legislation.

“Climate science says that the next 10 years will be make or break for climate action, meaning higher emissions cuts by 2030 are crucial to avoid catastrophe,” Mang continued. ”The later the EU starts making serious reductions to greenhouse gas emissions, the worse the climate impacts will become and deeper the cuts will need to be.”

“This will have a bigger impact on our economy and the lives of ordinary people, making it harder to ensure that the transition to a zero-carbon society is a fair transition,” he continued.