The European Union clinched a deal in the early hours of Wednesday on a landmark climate change law that puts new, tougher greenhouse gas emissions targets at the heart of all EU policymaking.
The deal arrives just in time for a summit of world leaders hosted by the U.S. government on Thursday and Friday, where the EU and other global powers will promote their pledges to protect the planet.
The European climate law will guide the bloc’s regulations in the coming decades. It includes a target to reduce net emissions at least 55% by the end of the decade from 1990 levels – lower than the 60% goal sought by the European Parliament – to steer it towards reaching zero net emissions by 2050.
If adopted globally, the net zero by 2050 pathway would limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels and avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
After months of wrangling and a full night of negotiations from Tuesday, negotiators representing the European Parliament and the 27 EU governments finished the law. The deal still needs formal approval from parliament and national governments.
“This is a landmark moment for the EU,” the bloc’s climate policy chief Frans Timmermans said in a statement. “Today’s agreement also reinforces our global position as a leader in tackling the climate crisis.”
A handful of countries, including Britain and New Zealand, have enshrined net zero emissions goals into law, but the 27-country EU is the biggest emitter to do so.
The target to cut EU-wide net emissions at least 55% by 2030, from 1990 levels, replaces a previous goal of a cut of at least 40%. By 2019, EU emissions were already 24% lower than in 1990.
EU lawmakers had wanted to go further to 60% by 2030. Green campaigners said the cut should be 65%.
“I’m satisfied today,” said Swedish Social Democrat Jytte Guteland, the European Parliament’s lead negotiator. “The most important thing was to make sure that science would be more integrated in the EU law.”
Green EU lawmaker Michael Bloss said Brussels had sacrificed ambition to rush through a deal in time for the U.S. summit.
The 2030 target sets the stage for a major package of EU regulations due in June to cut emissions, including proposals to revamp the EU carbon market, tougher CO2 standards for cars, and a border tariff to impose CO2 costs on imports of polluting goods.
Negotiators agreed to limit the amount of emissions removals that can be counted towards the 2030 target, to 225 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent.
That aims to ensure the goal is met by cutting emissions from polluting sectors, rather than relying on removing CO2 from the atmosphere through carbon-absorbing forests.
The law requires Brussels to create an independent body of scientific experts to advise on climate policies, plus a greenhouse gas budget laying out the total emissions the EU can produce from 2030-2050, without thwarting its climate goals.