The autumn of 2016 saw the EU ratify the Paris Agreement, which set out the goal of keeping the rise of global temperature well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Under article 4 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, the EU and its member states have shared competency in legislating on environmental policies.

In November 2019, the European Parliament declared a climate emergency and one month later, the European Council endorsed the 2050 climate neutrality objective. Following this, the European Commission tabled the European Climate Law (2020/0036), in March 2020, a regulation which would make climate neutrality by 2050 a legal requirement for the EU.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen highlighted the aim for Europe to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050 in her first State of the Union speech. She also announced that the Commission was proposing to increase the 2030 target for emission reduction from 40% to at least 55% of 1990 levels (1990 was the first year that consistent emissions data was collected across developed nations).


What is the objective?

The regulation is at the heart of the European Green Deal (announced by the Commission in December 2019) - climate neutrality is the foundation of all eight policies mapped out in the deal. The European Climate Law’s main objective is to make the EU’s climate neutrality objective a legally binding obligation on Member States.


What does it contain?

It sets out the process to ensure that the EU stays on track to meet its objective of climate neutrality by 2050. Climate neutrality would cover all sectors and all greenhouse gases. The EU institutions and member states would be required to take ‘necessary measures’ to achieve the 2050 objective.

The proposed regulation contains provisions for the Commission set out a trajectory at Union level to achieve the 2050 objective. Further, member states will be required to develop and implement adaptation strategies and plans based on climate vulnerability baselines and progress assessments. In addition, provision is made for the Commission to engage with all parts of society to take action towards a climate-neutral and climate-resilient society.


Recent amendments by the European Parliament

On 6 and 7 October, the European Parliament voted:

  • · to update the EU’s climate target for 2030 from 40% to a 60% reduction of emissions compared to 1990 levels
  • · to approve proposals that ensure both the EU and each member state individually reach climate neutrality by 2050
  • · to set up an EU Climate Change Council as an independent scientific body to monitor progress and assess whether climate policy is consistent
  • · for the EU and all member states to phase out all direct and indirect fossil fuel subsidies by 31 December 2025
  • · for the Commission to propose an interim target for 2040, following an impact assessment

Following the votes, Jytte Guteland MEP and rapporteur said, “The adoption of the report sends a clear message to the Commission and the Council, in light of the upcoming negotiations. We expect all member states to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 at the latest and we need strong interim targets in 2030 and 2040 for the EU to achieve this.”



Some MEPs objected to the amendments as they believe that the new 60% target would be too costly for European industry to implement. Peter Liese of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) called the target “overambitious” and called for a return to the 55% target.

Environmental groups also raised concerns that the updated target of 60% was still inconsistent with the targets under the Paris Agreement.


Next steps

The updated text will be sent to the EU Council of Ministers for final approval. Once the Council has agreed a common position the European Parliament will begin negotiations with member states. The EU is aiming to conclude negotiations by the end of the year.


More information

European Parliament press release - EU climate law: MEPs want to increase 2030 emissions reduction target to 60%

European Commission - Questions and answers on the European Climate Law and Climate Pact

Amendments adopted by the European Parliament on 8 October 2020 on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing the framework for achieving climate neutrality and amending Regulation (EU) 2018/1999 (European Climate Law)

European Climate Law tabled by the European Commission on 4 March 2020

European Parliament press release - The European Parliament declares climate emergency