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EU ministers approve landmark climate measures, but tough talks await

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EU governments backed key efforts to slash emissions in the early hours of Wednesday, even as they left the Continent’s climate masterplan riddled with exemptions, according Politico.

Seventeen hours of negotiations between the bloc’s national environment ministers ended in a compromise deal that moves the European Union one step closer to implementing sweeping measures intended to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent this decade. 

Concessions granted to some countries in the process raised concerns that ministers had weakened the legislation, setting the stage for difficult negotiations with the European Parliament on the finalized package. 

Still, the mood was upbeat as the vote passed just after 2 a.m. on Wednesday, with both ministers and the Commission praising the outcome.

“In the middle of Europe’s biggest energy crisis, we have launched one of the most comprehensive climate packages in EU history,” German Climate Minister Robert Habeck said.

Talks to settle on a common position on core elements of the Commission’s landmark climate legislation package, known as Fit for 55, kicked off on Tuesday morning and lasted well into the night as ministers struggled to resolve the sticking points. 

They had traveled to Luxembourg to thrash out a consensus on the reform of the EU’s carbon market, targets for carbon sinks, national emission reduction goals and the phaseout of combustion-engine cars — cornerstones of the EU’s plan to curb planet-warming emissions. 

In the end, the headline targets were left unchanged. Ministers agreed that the EU must collectively remove 310 million tons of CO2 equivalent from the atmosphere by boosting natural sinks like forests, end the sale of combustion-engine cars in 2035, introduce a carbon price on transport and heating fuels, and more. 

But with each EU member country pushing to protect national interests — and little appetite for increasing climate ambitions given the effects of Russia’s war on Ukraine and soaring energy prices — governments introduced numerous smaller tweaks to the Commission’s original proposal. 

“We cannot compromise with climate change. We cannot negotiate with nature,” Danish Climate Minister Dan Jørgensen told his colleagues as they each laid out what changes to the legislation they wanted to see. 

EU’s Green Deal chief Frans Timmermans said after the agreement passed that it would set the bloc on a path toward reducing emissions by at least 55 percent this decade and net zero by mid-century.