Public opinion in the European Union strongly supports more ambitious national climate targets rather than abandoning them, according to a YouGov poll conducted in 12 European countries including Ireland.
Some 68 per cent of respondents want their country’s climate targets to be increased; the equivalent Irish figure is 59 per cent.
The poll for non-governmental organisation Transport & Environment (T&E) was conducted in the context of the EU reviewing its “effort sharing” climate targets in the coming weeks – how much each country and industry will chip in to meet the EU’s overall 55 per cent carbon emissions reduction target by 2030.
There will be a special EU Council on May 25th on the issue, while the European Commission will make a legislative proposal in June.
The poll indicates 84 per cent support for increased climate efforts in the transport and buildings sectors to be delivered through new standards and regulations – 81 per cent of Irish respondents support this approach.
The findings indicate significant public scepticism about carbon pricing. On a proposed new instrument that would make transport fuels and heating fuels more expensive, 59 per cent (51 per cent in Ireland) oppose such a move which would be pursued by carbon pricing.
The poll was conducted among more than 1,300 people.
T&E has called on the European Commission to “listen to citizens and stop casting doubt on the continued responsibility of national governments to jointly deliver on the EU’s 2030 climate target”. The Commission should propose increased national targets as part of its “Fit for 55” package, it added.
T&E climate manager Sofie Defour said binding targets were a key driver for national climate action, such as ending subsidies for diesel company cars, and were widely supported by EU citizens. "The European Commission should take heed of this and finally make clear that the national targets are here to stay as one of the main pillars of the EU's climate architecture," she said.
“Shifting the responsibility for delivering on the EU climate target from countries to the EU’s carbon market is a high-risk, low-reward strategy,” she warned.
If the EU decides to press ahead with a carbon market for cars and trucks despite low public support, “it should address the social impacts both within and between EU member states”.
The Commission should build on overwhelming public support for new climate measures to prioritise increased ambition in high-impact EU measures such as CO2 standards for cars and vans, Ms Defour said, while ambitious policies at EU-level would also help member states to more easily reach their target.
The Commission has outlined three options to revise the “effort sharing regulation”, which sets binding national climate targets for each member state and regulates 60 per cent of EU emissions. All three options propose repealing or seriously weakening the national climate targets, T&E noted.
National governments can tailor policies to investment needs and socio-economic realities on the ground, allowing for a much more impactful and a much more just transition, Ms Defour said. If the EU does decide to include some sort of carbon pricing in the policy mix, the mechanism should be designed as a supportive policy that helps member states to more easily comply with their effort sharing targets, rather than replacing national targets.
The Irish Government had taken quite a hostile position to more ambitious targets in the past, T&E noted. It is ranked 18th in its "climate leader board" based on the position it has taken in EU negotiations. Given its new 51 per cent 2030 target, and the Green Party being part of the Coalition, Ireland is expected to take a more ambitious position on this occasion.