EU countries early yesterday clinched deals on proposed laws to combat climate change, backing a 2035 phaseout of new fossil fuel vehicle sales and a multibillion-dollar fund to shield poorer citizens from carbon emission costs.
After more than 16 hours of negotiations, environment ministers from the EU’s 27 member states agreed their joint positions on five laws, part of a broader package of measures to slash planet-warming emissions this decade.
“The climate crisis and its consequences are clear, and so policy is unavoidable,” EU climate policy head Frans Timmermans said, adding that he thought the invasion of Ukraine by top gas supplier Russia was spurring countries to quit fossil fuels faster.
Ministers supported core parts of the package that the European Commission first proposed last summer, including a law requiring new vehicles sold in the EU to emit zero carbon dioxide from 2035. That would make it impossible to sell internal-combustion engine vehicles.
The deal makes it likely that the proposal would become EU law. The ministers’ agreements would form their position in upcoming negotiations with the EU Parliament on the final laws. Parliament has already backed the 2035 car target.
Italy, Slovakia and other states had wanted the phaseout delayed to 2040. Countries eventually backed a compromise proposed by Germany, the EU’s biggest auto market, which kept the 2035 target and asked Brussels to assess in 2026 whether hybrid vehicles or carbon dioxide-neutral fuels could comply with the goal.
Timmermans said that the commission would keep an “open mind,” but that today, hybrids did not deliver sufficient emissions cuts and alternative fuels were prohibitively expensive.
The climate proposals aim to ensure the 27-country EU — the world’s third-biggest greenhouse gas emitter — reaches its 2030 target of reducing net emissions by 55 percent from 1990 levels.
Doing so would require governments and industries to invest heavily in cleaner manufacturing, renewable energy and electric vehicles.
Ministers backed a new EU carbon market to impose emission costs on polluting fuels used in transport and buildings, although they said it should launch in 2027, a year later than initially planned.
After fraught negotiations, they agreed to form a 59 billion euros (US$62 billion) EU fund to shield low-income citizens from the policy’s costs from 2027 to 2032.
Lithuania was the only country to oppose the final agreements, having unsuccessfully sought a bigger fund alongside Poland, Latvia and others concerned the new carbon market could increase citizens’ energy bills.
Ministers also rallied behind reforms to the EU’s current carbon market, which forces industry and power plants to pay when they pollute.
Countries accepted core elements of the commission’s proposal to reinforce the market to cut emissions 61 percent by 2030, and extend it to cover shipping. They agreed on rules to make it easier for the EU to intervene in response to carbon price spikes.
Ministers backed two other laws to strengthen the national emissions-cutting targets Brussels sets countries for some sectors, and increase natural carbon sinks like forests.
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