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European Union: Commission Proposes European Climate Law to Achieve Climate Neutrality by 2050

(Apr. 7, 2020) On March 4, 2020, the European Commission (Commission) published a proposal for a regulation (European Climate Law). The proposal would codify the European Union’s (EU’s) goal to become climate neutral by 2050 in accordance with the European Green Deal of December 2019.

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.)


In October 2016, the EU ratified the Paris Agreement, which sets out the goal of keeping global temperature increases to less than 2 C (35.6 F) above preindustrial levels. The Paris Agreement entered into force on November 4, 2016. The vision of obtaining climate neutrality by 2050 was first mentioned by the Commission in November 2018. On December 11, 2019, the Commission reaffirmed this goal in the European Green Deal and provided an initial roadmap and key actions the EU needs to take to make its society and economy, among other things, environmentally sustainable. Climate neutrality is at the foundation of all of the eight policies mapped out in the European Green Deal, and it contributes to the commitments of the EU under the Paris Agreement. The Green Deal is also part of the Commission’s strategy to implement the EU’s commitment to the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The European Climate Law confirms the climate-neutrality objective as a legally binding obligation.

The EU and its member states have shared competency in legislating environmental policies in pursuit of, among other things, promoting measures to combat climate change. (TFEU arts. 4; 191; 192, para. 1.) In drafting the European Climate Law, the EU relied on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report published in October 2018, which illustrates the impacts of global warming of 1.5 C above preindustrial levels. According to the Special Eurobarometer 490 conducted in 2019, 93% of European citizens see climate change as a serious problem.

Proposed European Climate Law

Climate Neutrality

The proposed European Climate Law would codify the binding objective of climate neutrality. (Art. 1.) Climate neutrality would be applicable collectively across the EU­, covering all sectors­, and concerns all greenhouse gases, not only carbon dioxide. (Art. 2.) The proposal states that “emissions and removals of greenhouse gases [shall] be balanced at the latest by 2050, thus reducing emissions to net zero by that date.” (Art. 2, para. 1.) The EU institutions and member states would be required to take all necessary measures to achieve this goal. (Art. 2, para. 2.) The proposed European Climate Law would leave the implementation of the necessary measures to the member states.

Measures for Achieving Climate Neutrality

According to the proposal, by September 2020, the Commission would review the existing 2030 emission targets set out in Regulation (EU) 2018/1999 in light of the 2050 climate-neutrality objective, as well as propose a new 2030 emissions-reduction target of 50 to 55% and amend the relevant law. (Art. 2, para. 3.) By June 2021, the Commission would be required to evaluate and, where necessary, revise all relevant EU legislation implementing the 2030 target in light of the new target reduction. (Art. 2, para. 4.) The Commission would be required to set a trajectory for 2030–2050, and it would have the power to adopt “delegated acts” corresponding to this trajectory. (Art. 3, para. 1; art. 9, paras. 1–2.) Following each global stocktake under the Paris Agreement, the Commission would review the trajectory every five years beginning in 2023. (Art. 3.)

The EU institutions and member states would be required to continuously improve on their adaptation to climate change by strengthening their resilience to climate change and reducing their vulnerability to it. (Art. 4.) In order to encourage public participation, the Commission would be required to facilitate an inclusive and accessible process at each step and on all levels. (Art. 8.)

Under the proposed new climate law, Regulation (EU) 2018/1999 on the Governance of the Energy Union and Climate Action, which creates a reliable and transparent mechanism to monitor the EU’s targets in line with the Paris Agreement, would be amended to include the 2050 climate-neutrality objective. (European Climate Law art. 10; Regulation (EU) 2018/1999, art. 1.)

Assessment of EU and National Measures

By September 2023 and every five years thereafter, the Commission would assess the collective progress made by the member states on climate neutrality and adaptation strategies. (Art. 5, para. 1.) The Commission would also be required to review the consistency and adequacy of the EU measures on climate neutrality and adaptation strategies under the same timeline. (Art. 5, para. 2.) If the EU measures proved to be inadequate or inconsistent with the climate-neutrality objective, the Commission would be required to take “necessary measures in accordance with [EU law].” (Art. 5, para. 3.)

By September 2023 and every five years thereafter, the Commission would be required to assess the consistency and adequacy of individual national measures on climate neutrality and adaptation strategies. (Art. 6, para. 1.) If the progress of a member state fell short of the 2030–2050 trajectory, the Commission would be required to issue recommendations to the member state in question and make such recommendations publicly available. (Art. 6, para. 2.) The respective member state would be required to take “due account” of those recommendations. (Art. 6, para. 3(a).) However, the European Climate Law does not explain what “due account” means. Rather it states that the member state has one year to address the recommendation issued by the Commission and must set out how it has taken “due account” of the recommendation in the progress report that it must submit under article 17 of Regulation (EU) 2018/1999 in the year following the issuance of the recommendation. If the member state in question decided not to follow the recommendation, it would be required to give its reasoning in the same progress report. (Art. 6, para. 3(b).)

Next Steps

Although the legislative process in the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union is still ongoing, the European Parliament agreed to the European Green Deal’s objective of achieving climate neutrality by 2050 in its January 2020 resolution. The objective of climate neutrality was also endorsed by the European Council in its December 2019 conclusions. The proposed European Climate Law is currently open for public feedback. The Commission will examine existing related legislation by June 2021 to ensure it is compatible with the proposed European Climate Law and continue with its road map of future initiatives for delivering the European Green Deal. The Commission also stated that the EU would continue to act as “a global leader” and use “climate diplomacy” to reinforce the global response. (European Climate Law recital 10.)

Prepared by Zeynep Timocin Cantekin, Law Library intern, under the supervision of Jenny Gesley, Foreign Law Specialist.