On July 21, 2021, the Regulation on a European Climate Law, which codifies the European Union’s (EU’s) goal to become climate neutral by 2050 as a legally binding obligation, entered into force. This goal was originally set out in the European Green Deal in December 2019. In addition, as an intermediate goal, the European Climate Law sets a total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction target of 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. On July 14, 2021, the European Commission presented a series of legislative proposals, the “Fit for 55 package,” which describes the measures the Commission will take to reach the 2030 target.
An EU regulation has general application. It is binding in its entirety and directly applicable in the EU member states. (Consolidated Version of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) art. 288, para. 2.)
Background to European Environmental Policies
In October 2016, the EU ratified the Paris Agreement, which sets out the goal of keeping global temperature increases to below 2 degrees Celsius (35.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial level. In furtherance of that goal, the EU submitted an updated and enhanced “nationally determined contribution” (NDC) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in December 2020, in which it set a net domestic GHG emissions reduction target of at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. The EU and its member states have shared competency in legislating environmental policies in pursuit of, inter alia, promoting measures to combat climate change. (TFEU arts. 4, 191, and 192, para. 1.)
Content of the European Climate Law
The European Climate Law codifies the binding objective of climate neutrality by 2050 at the latest. (Art. 2.) EU institutions and member states must take the necessary measures to achieve this goal. (Art. 2, para. 2.) The European Climate Law leaves the implementation of the necessary measures to the member states.
Measures for Achieving Climate Neutrality
As an intermediate goal to reach climate neutrality, the EU set a 2030 GHG emissions reduction target of 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. The “Fit for 55 package” proposes the following amendments to legislation and new measures to achieve this goal:
- A revision of the EU emissions trading system (EU ETS), including extending it to shipping, revising the rules for aviation emissions, and establishing a separate emission trading system for road transport and buildings.
- A revision of the Effort Sharing Regulation on member states’ annual GHG emission reduction targets in sectors outside the EU ETS.
- A revision of the regulation on the inclusion of GHG emissions and removals from land use, land use change, and forestry (LULUCF Regulation).
- A revision of the Renewable Energy Directive.
- A recast of the Energy Efficiency Directive.
- A revision of the Directive on the Deployment of Alternative Fuels Infrastructure.
- An amendment of the Regulation Setting CO2 Emission Standards for Cars and Vans.
- A revision of the Energy Taxation Directive.
- A carbon border adjustment mechanism.
- ReFuelEU Aviation for sustainable aviation fuels.
- FuelEU Maritime for a green European maritime space.
- A social climate fund financed by the EU budget, with a funding of 72.2 billion euros (about US$85.1 billion) for the period 2025–2032.
- An EU forest strategy to improve the quality, quantity, and resilience of EU forests, including a plan to plant 3 billion trees across Europe by 2030.
Assessment of EU and National Measures and Review
By September 30, 2023, and every five years thereafter, the Commission will assess the collective progress made by the member states on climate neutrality and adaptation strategies. (Art. 6, para. 1.) The Commission must also review the consistency and adequacy of the EU measures on climate neutrality and adaptation strategies under the same timeline. (Art. 6, para. 2.) If the EU measures are inadequate or inconsistent with the climate-neutrality objective, the Commission must take the necessary measures to remedy the situation. (Art. 6, para. 3.)
Furthermore, by September 30, 2023, and every five years thereafter, the Commission must assess the consistency and adequacy of individual national measures on climate neutrality and adaptation strategies. (Art. 7, para. 1.) If national measures are judged inconsistent with the climate-neutrality objective, the Commission will issue recommendations to the member state in question and make such recommendations publicly available. (Art. 7, para. 2.) The respective member state must take “due account” of that recommendation or explain its reasoning if it decides not to follow it in the yearly energy and climate progress report. (Art. 7, paras. 3, 4.)
Lastly, within six months of each global stocktake referred to in article 14 of the Paris Agreement, the Commission must report to the European Parliament and to the Council of the European Union on the operation of the European Climate Law, taking into account scientific evidence and international developments. The report must include the aforementioned assessments of collective and individual measures. (Art. 11.)