Greta Thunberg accuses EU of ‘surrender’ as it unveils climate law

Target of legally binding net zero emissions by 2050 ‘means giving up’, says activist

The European Commission proposed legislation to require the European Union to become carbon neutral by 2050 on Wednesday, in a plan slammed by climate activists as not going far enough.

If adopted, the European Climate Law would set in legislation the bloc’s aim to have net-zero emissions within three decades to ward off catastrophic climate change caused by rising global temperatures.

“The science is very clear. Climate is part of the natural world that sustains us. And this natural world is severely endangered,” said European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

“The climate law will oblige the European Union to take our climate goals into account in all future policy and legislation. It is a binding legal obligation. It offers predictability, it offers transparency.”


But teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, who was invited to the launch of the plan, denounced it as a "surrender" that was too slow to stop runaway global warming and reneged on the Paris Agreement to cut emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2030.

"You admit that you are giving up, on the Paris Agreement, on your promises and on doing what you can to ensure a safe future for your own children," Ms Thunberg told members of the European Parliament. "This climate law is surrender. Nature doesn't bargain, and you cannot make deals with physics."

The Swedish activist said even a few more years of high emissions would make it impossible to reach goals to which the EU had already committed.

“Pretending a law that no one has to follow is a law, pretending that you can be a climate leader and still go on building and subsidising new fossil fuel infrastructure, pretending that empty words will make this emergency go away . . . this must come to an end,” she said.


Under the plan, the EU will set a trajectory for emissions reductions from 2030, and the commission will be charged with monitoring progress and issuing “recommendations” to EU states who fall short.

The timetable for reductions will be based on an impact assessment – which has not yet been done – and member states would be required to make a plan to reduce their vulnerability to climate change.

The law is a cornerstone of the new commission’s European Green Deal, an investment and policy plan to make Europe’s economy sustainable, and Ms von der Leyen said she was confident it would pay off.

“I see the climate transition as a huge opportunity for Europe – to get the first mover advantage. I know what European businesses are capable of. I know by experience that we are a continent of innovators and of pioneers and entrepreneurs,” she said.

“This climate law will set in stone Europe’s position as a climate leader on the global stage.”

Fianna Fáil MEP Billy Kelleher called the proposal an “important step”.

“The evidence is clear: our planet’s future, and our children’s futures, are being jeopardised by our collective inaction,” he said. “Hand on heart, I do not believe that Europe will become climate-neutral without being legally forced to do so.”

But Green MEP Ciarán Cuffe said the plan was not enough.

“We had high expectations for the commission’s climate law, but today’s proposal has fallen short of what we were hoping for,” Mr Cuffe said. “We need to take difficult decisions now, not kick the can down the road.”

The proposal will now be considered by leaders of EU member states in the European Council and by the European Parliament, which may amend, block or accept the law.

Climate campaigners consider it vital that the European Union adopt a strong common position on reducing emissions before November’s COP24 in Glasgow: the next round of talks on the Paris Agreement, which has been beleagured by slow implementation and the United States’s withdrawal from the accord.


Climate plan: Key points

* The climate law would set down in legislation the EU’s aim to be carbon neutral by 2050, ie, no longer increasing the greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere causing global warming and climate change.

* A timetable for reduction of emissions for the whole EU would be set down for 2030 to 2050. Before that, the commission will propose a new reduction target for 2030 based on an impact assessment, and would begin assessing national and EU plans to assess progress towards it from 2023.

* The commission would monitor whether EU member states are doing enough to hit emissions reductions targets, and would issue recommendations if they are not. Enforcement is light-handed: according to the commission, “member states will be obliged to take due account of these recommendations or to explain their reasoning if they fail to do so”.

* The plan is accompanied by large-scale proposed investment in transforming European economies to be sustainable and away from fossil fuels. The European Green Deal Investment Plan proposes to spend €1 trillion on this in the next decade, while the Just Transition Fund will support areas will suffer economically if they give up fossil fuels.

* Member states would also be required to draw up plans to adapt and reduce their vulnerability to climate change.

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times