EU claims success on flagship climate change policy - but Poland says no

James Crisp
Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, and Charles Michel, the European Council president, claimed victory despite the Polish snub. - REX

The European Union failed to get unanimous backing for its pledge to cut carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 after hours of marathon summit talks that dragged into the early hours of Friday morning. 

The EU claimed that it had endorsed the target, the centre-piece of Brussels’ flagship Green New Deal policy, after Thursday’s European Council summit, despite Poland refusing to sign up to the plan. 

In a break with usual protocol, EU leaders published summit conclusions, which normally require the support of every single EU member state, backing the 2050 goal. The conclusions said one member state, meaning Poland, was unable to implement the objective at this stage.

The fudge came after hours of haggling with Eastern European states such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, demanding funds to support a transition away from fossil fuels and a role for nuclear power. 

The Czech Republic and Hungary eventually dropped their resistance after winning a guarantee that nuclear energy would be recognised as a way for EU states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But Poland, which floated pushing the date back to 2070, remained against. 

Charles Michel, the new European Council president, insisted that the whole EU had endorsed the target but admitted that Brussels would be forced to return to the issue in June. 

"We want Europe as the first climate-neutral continent," he said, “We have also taken into consideration the fact that for one member state it is necessary to take more time before they implement this objective and we will have the occasion by June 2020 to come back in the Council regarding this country."

Mr Michel, in his debut summit, admitted the move was unusual. He said, “ I think we do need creativity in Europe if we are going to get the European project further.”

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said, “Poland will be reaching climate neutrality at its own pace".

Poland wanted firm guarantees that EU climate investment would not crowd out the bloc's development aid for its poorer peers. In Poland some 80% of power is generated from coal.

The decision came just a day after the European Commission unveiled a 100-billion-euro plan for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century, declaring it the EU's "man on the moon moment".

In Madrid, governments at the UN climate talks failed to reach a consensus by the official end of the summit. 

The EU joined representatives of several other governments yesterday to criticise Brazil, Australia and the US for blocking agreements over carbon markets as the talks continued into the weekend. 

Success in Madrid is seen as crucial to pave the way for productive talks at next year's summit in Glasgow, when heads of state are meant to introduce new commitments to meet the Paris agreement.