The Irish Times view on the new EU climate targets: questions about whether the plan is realistic

Failure to curb emissions could cost €2.4 trillion between 2031 and 2050 because of extreme weather and other changes, according to European Commission estimates

When it set an interim target for 2040 of a 90 per cent reduction in EU greenhouse gas emissions (against the 1990 base figure), the European Commission again demonstrated that politics can trump science. It removed from its draft proposals a vital stepping stone between the union’s 2050 climate neutrality goal and its 2030 emissions reduction target of 55 percent, the references to a targeted 30 per cent reduction in methane, nitrogen and other gases linked to farming. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas belched out by cows, while nitrogen is a pollutant in fertiliser.

The retreat comes ahead of the European Parliament elections and amid fears that the farming vote, representing 2.9 percent of the EU’s working-age population, may be susceptible to the ascendant far right. They have traditionally backed the centre-right EPP to which commission president Ursula von der Leyen belongs.

In the wake of recent mass farmer protests in France, Germany, Belgium and Italy, von der Leyen also announced concessions on a controversial pesticide reduction bill. The commission has launched “strategic dialogues” with the sector, cut back mandatory setaside rules, and allowed member states to introduce restrictions on some Ukrainian agricultural imports.

Whether it can achieve the desired emissions cuts without these farm measures is far from clear. Agricultural activities, which account for 10 per cent of EU emissions, were initially billed by the commission draft, a recommendation to the next commission, as “one of the core areas to reduce EU greenhouse gas emissions by 2040″.

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As of 2022, EU emissions are 32.5 percent lower than in 1990, leaving them half as long to do twice the work. Failure to curb emissions could cost €2.4 trillion between 2031 and 2050 because of extreme weather and other changes, the Commission estimates. The 2040 target document is meant to set out what paths the union could take to reduce emissions, to bring about “a new industrial revolution” and to become carbon-neutral by 2050. There is an awfully long way to go.