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Climate Policies Teeter on Edge of Approval in EU Parliament by Bridget Ryder

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Climate Policies Teeter on Edge of Approval in EU Parliament

A series of recent votes in the European Parliament show that climate-focused regulations do not always meet with overwhelming approval in the EU parliament, and that their adoption can be hit or miss.

Combustion engines 

At its plenary session earlier in June, parliament approved, by a close vote, a resolution that called for the phasing out of combustion engines by 2035, essentially opting for electric cars, even as part of the Left urged caution on such a drastic move.

Nuclear and natural gas

Another controversial close call involved the pending admission of nuclear and gas into the Emissions Trading System—commonly called the green finance taxonomy. The changes to include natural and nuclear as “transitional energies” were proposed by the EU commission in January in a delegated act, meaning it had to wait to be accepted or rejected by the parliament and the council of ministers. 

On June 14th, MEPs on the parliament’s environment committee, and those from the economic and monetary affairs committee (ECON), adopted a resolution to omit nuclear energy and natural gas from the taxonomy, with 76 votes in favour and 62 against. 

The committee votes are symbolic, as in themselves they do not affect the adoption or rejection of the taxonomy. But it offers a foreshadowing of how close the plenary parliamentary vote, scheduled for July, will be. 

Even French MEPs, whose country gets half of its electricity from nuclear energy, were divided on the matter. Within the council of ministers, France, Germany, and the eastern European countries are strongly in favour of including natural gas and nuclear, outnumbering those countries that are strongly opposed.

But should parliament reject the delegated act, France will not get support for nuclear energy as a “transitional energy” within the taxonomy. Germany will also lose the opportunity for support for natural gas. 

Carbon emissions

Another example of the unpredictability of environmental policy can be seen in the recent plenary vote on the carbon market. At the plenary session earlier in June, a proposed adjustment to the carbon market, a tool the EU uses to regulate carbon emissions by industry and a key part of the wider “Fit for 55” carbon emission reduction plan, fell apart at the last minute over a matter of a few numbers. It also strangely brought the Left and Right together, but for different reasons. 

As Politico reports, a month ago, the environment committee had adopted a stance that called for a 67% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 in sectors included in the Emissions Trading System, a position that surpasses the EU commission’s goal of 61%. Some on the Right and some centrists stood squarely against the resolution, but in the interim to the plenary vote, compromising centrists started to fear the resolution still went too far for industry. They decided to work out amendments to lower the emissions reductions goals and give businesses more leeway. But the Left finally baulked at the amendments, and in the plenary vote, the S&D, the Greens, and the Left joined with parts of the Right, as well as a few centrist MEPs and even four EPP deputies, to vote down the report by 340 to 265. 

Now the carbon market resolution has been sent back to committee, some hoping it will never return. 

Environmental politics can be messy. 

Bridget Ryder is Spain-based writer. She has written on politics, environment, and culture for American and international publications. She holds degrees in Spanish and Catholic Studies.