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Climate change: Five years on from Paris Agreement, is Europe on track to hit the deal's targets?

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Students set up candles for the slogan'Fight for 1 point 5' during a protest of the Fridays For Future movement at the Brandenburg Gate Berlin, Germany
Students set up candles for the slogan'Fight for 1 point 5' during a protest of the Fridays For Future movement at the Brandenburg Gate Berlin, Germany   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Markus Schreiber
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Too little has been done in Europe over the last five years to get on track with the ambitions of the Paris Climate Agreement, environmental researchers have warned - but they say it is not too late.

Agreed in 2015, the Paris climate accord was a landmark moment in the fight against man-made climate change, with signatories agreeing to a long-term goal of keeping the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

EU member states, represented at the European Council, agreed on Friday to reduce emissions by at least 55% of 1990 levels by 2030, which Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said puts the EU "on a clear path towards climate neutrality in 2050."

But with the aim of limiting the increase to 1.5°C, which scientists say would help to reduce the negative impact of climate change, some activists and scientists say a 55% reduction is well below what is needed.

“We are definitely happy that there is a deal and it was a very difficult negotiation, but we still see it’s nowhere near sufficient to be in line with the 1.5C goal of the Paris Agreement,” said Klaus Röhrig, EU Climate Policy Coordinator for Climate Action Network Europe.

“This 55% target includes the removals from carbon sinks, that further waters down the ambition”.

The science says to honour the goals in the Paris Agreement, Europe needs to cut its emissions by 65% by 2030, not the 55% that was agreed today, argues Röhrig.

Is it too late to get on track?

Röhrig says the council’s deal is an important step in itself, and acts as a “green light from the highest political level”, which will be important internationally ahead of the talks which mark the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement.

But Europe needs to up its ambitions, he says. “It’s not enough from what science tells us is needed to do, but it’s not a defeat, it’s not the end of the story, it reaches out a hand to what is (to come) next year.”

“Any time we waste is lost time and reduces the probability of achieving the temperature goals. Too little has been done in the last five years, it’s true,” he said, pointing out the original 40% reduction planned by the EU was “absolutely insufficient”.

“We don’t think it’s too late. We’ve seen quite a shift in the last years with mass mobilisations, with much higher awareness in the general public of the urgency and dangers of climate change. We now just have to translate that into the political will that we need.”

That’s a sentiment shared by Lucie Mattera, head of EU politics at E3G, a climate change think tank.

“In EU politics, the climate is driving the agenda, and very importantly, EU leaders are sticking to climate ambitions in the midst of a global pandemic, in the worst economic crisis Europe has had to face in peacetime,” she told Euronews.

“So those are very important signals that the EU is very serious about climate ambition and climate action.”

And on the agreement made by the European Council on Friday, she points out the wording leaves an opening to make the target more ambitious.

“The exact wording is ‘a target of at least 55%’. That ‘at least’ is your opening to improve the target in the course of the legislative process that is now going to move forward between Council of Europe and Parliament,” she said.

A lot rides on ensuring that coal-dependent countries, such as Poland, are supported enough to transition their economies away from fossil fuels to renewables, according to Röhrig.

“To actually get that done we have the main legislation that will be on the table next year.

“In June, the European Commission will present revision proposals for the main climate legislation of the EU.”

This will be a key opportunity to once again increase the emission reduction targets, he said.