EU to establish climate change science advisory board

Provisional agreement on the EU’s new climate law includes formation of independent European scientific advisory board to help plot the route to carbon neutrality

Bas Eickhout, the vice president of the Parliament’s environment committee. Photo: European Parliment

The EU is to establish scientific panel on climate change to provide the European Commission with independent scientific advice on the plan to become the first climate-neutral continent, following provisional agreement on the EU’s new climate law.

The law enshrines the EU's commitment to reaching climate neutrality by 2050 and to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. The European Parliament, Council and Commission reached the deal on the targets early on Wednesday morning after six trilateral meetings. 

The decision was reached as US President Joe Biden began to make good on his pledge to revive US efforts to combat global warming, hosting a global climate summit on Thursday and Friday, where he is hoping to make agreements with some of the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters.

Opening the summit, the US unveiled a goal to halve its carbon emissions by 2030 – nearly double the country’s previous commitment, based on 2005 levels of emissions – and will urge other nations to accelerate their own climate commitments.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is attending the virtual summit, as are presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil. Other key attendees include UK prime minister Boris Johnson and German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Climate goals

The new European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change will provide independent scientific advice on how the EU should go about achieving its climate goals. According to a Commission official, the board will work “within the administrative structure of the European Environmental Agency (EEA), while acting independently.”

The plan for the board was first introduced in the European Parliament’s amendments to the climate law in October, under the name, European Climate Change Council.

Back then, MEPs envisioned the council would be composed of a scientific committee and a management board that met twice a year. The Parliament wanted the members for the council to serve five year terms, but that was reduced to four in the negotiations which concluded on Wednesday.

“The advisory board will consist of 15 scientific experts, no more than two members [from] the same member state,” the EU official said.

The EEA will pick each expert for a four year term, renewable once. The experts provide independent scientific advice, issue annual reports and consult with the EEA management board.

“The addition of an independent scientific council and carbon budget are the silver linings of this agreement, which will at least serve as a base for future action,” said Bas Eickhout, the vice president of the Parliament’s environment committee.

“However, the overall agreement is simply not ambitious enough for the EU to do its part towards saving the climate,” he added.

The Parliament wanted a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2030, while the Greens group of MEPs wanted the figure to go as high as 65%, in line with recommendations from scientists.

Green MEP Michael Bloss lamented the lack of intent to make use of existing technologies to ditch fossil fuels faster and achieve more ambitious climate goals. “We have the technology at hand. It is really a question of political will,” Bloss said.

The EU is planning to invest up to 35% of its €95.5 billion Horizon Europe budget on research and innovation to tackle climate change. Other EU funding programmes, including structural funds and recovery and resilience fund also have targets for investments in new green technologies.

In addition, some member states have already committed to targets that go beyond what’s enshrined in the climate law and plan to reach climate neutrality before the 2050 deadline.  “Finland already agreed to be climate neutral by 2035,” Bloss noted.

Once the provisional agreement is formally approved by Parliament and Council, the European climate law will be published in the official journal and will enter into force.

New investment criteria for green tech

Also on Wednesday, the Commission adopted new criteria for economic activities to qualify as substantially contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

EU research commissioner Mariya Gabriel said this will serve as a guide for researchers and innovators who want finance for technologies that speed up the transition to a green economy.  

The criteria list research and innovation as “enabling activity”. The Commission hopes that research and innovation projects in renewable energy and materials, carbon capture, batteries, electric vehicles and other green technologies will get better access to finance as a result.

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