On March 4, 2020, the European Commission delivered the first major climate piece of its European Green Deal: it proposed a “European Climate Law,” which takes the form of a Regulation and establishes a framework for the irreversible and gradual reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the enhancement of removals in the European Union.  The proposal and the fact that it takes the form of a binding Regulation may have a significant impact on a wide variety of legislative and policy initiatives that the EU and its Member States may take within the next years.

The proposed Regulation would set into binding legislation the EU’s 2050 climate-neutrality objective and require the European Parliament, Council and Commission, as well as the EU Member States, to take the necessary measures to enable the collective achievement of this objective. It will also require the European Commission to review, by September 2020, the EU’s emission reduction target for 2030, in light of the climate neutrality objective for 2050, and to explore options for a new 2030 emission reduction target of 50% to 55% in comparison to 1990 emissions.

The proposed Regulation would also empower the Commission to adopt Regulations, without having to negotiate them with Member States and the Parliament, setting up a trajectory at Union level to achieve the neutrality objective by 2050.  This trajectory must start from the 2030 target and be amended in line with updates under the UNFCCC Paris Agreement.

The proposed Regulation would also require the EU institutions and Member States to continuously adopt measures to adapt to climate change.

Finally, the proposed Regulation would also require the Commission to engage with all stakeholders to enable and empower them to take action towards a climate-neutral and climate-resilient society.

The Commission’s proposal to enshrine an EU neutrality target in a binding EU Regulation may have a significant legal and policy impact in the EU during the next decades.  The Regulation may  create a legal basis to oblige EU institutions and Member States to ensure that any policies they adopt are aimed to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, and also to allow NGOs to challenge before EU and Member State courts any EU and national measures that are not compatible with that objective.

Moreover, NGOs are demanding the Parliament and Council to include in the proposed Regulation explicit provisions allowing citizens and NGOs to take legal action against EU and Member State authorities for failure to comply with the 2050 climate neutrality objective.  This could provide a boost to the climate change litigation that NGOs are already bringing against governments and companies across Europe (see for example the Urgenda case in the Netherlands).  In this context, it is worth noting that the European Parliament’s Resolution on the Green Deal of January 15, 2020 stressed that “all people living in Europe should be granted the fundamental right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment and to stable climate, without discrimination, and that this right must be delivered through ambitious policies and must be fully enforceable through the justice system at national and EU level.”

The European Parliament and Council must now consider the proposed Climate Change Law for adoption through the so-called ordinary legislative procedure.  The Commission hopes that the Parliament and Council will be able to reach an agreement on the text of the Regulation by the Autumn of 2020, in advance of the next UNFCCC COP 26 in Glasgow in November 2020.