July 6, 2023 - 8:00am

When the EU passed its landmark climate policy in April, it was heralded as the bloc’s most ambitious to date. Under the new terms, emissions are to be slashed by 62% from 2005 levels before 2030, paving the way for the EU to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

But since the passage of that deal, cracks in the European alliance have started to emerge. In recent weeks, several countries and alliances have been calling for a pause, while others have been quietly abandoning climate targets altogether. In the past week alone, Austria’s federal environmental agency warned that the country’s climate target for 2030 would not be reached in time — just as leaked documents showed that Britain, a fellow traveller on green policy, dropped its flagship £11.6 billion climate pledge to developing countries (a week earlier, a separate report found that the government was set to miss the majority of its climate targets too). 

According to the leak, the UK government has chosen to reorient its development focus away from green policies in order to deal with its post-Covid recovery, Ukraine and the ongoing cost-of-living crisis. At the same time, Rishi Sunak has approved the country’s first deep coal mine in 30 years and promised to look into nuclear power as part of his energy security strategy. 

Nuclear energy remains a divisive issue in the EU, but some countries are pursuing it nonetheless. Two weeks ago, Sweden’s parliament reformulated its energy target from “100% renewable” to “100% fossil-free electricity”, opening the door to the use of nuclear energy.

Elsewhere, countries have offered varying degrees of resistance or scepticism about the speed of the bloc’s climate agenda. While some leaders, namely Emmanuel Macron, have called for a “pause” in environmental legislation, other countries are taking a more aggressive approach. Last month, Poland’s climate minister promised to take the EU to court over its combustion-engine car ban.

Even Germany, arguably the EU’s biggest cheerleader for ambitious environmental targets, is struggling to stay on track. Earlier this year, the government’s decision to phase out gas and oil heating threw the coalition into a crisis, resulting in Robert Habeck and his Green Party plummeting in the polls. Just before the EU passed its emissions plan, Germany reneged on a deal to ban the sale of new internal combustion engines in the EU by 2035.

Ahead of European elections next year, an ideological split over the bloc’s green policy is taking shape. On the more sceptical side, a constellation of Right-leaning groups, ranging from the centre-Right EPP (which counts European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s CDU as a member) to the far-Right Identity & Democracy, have become increasingly critical of the green agenda. In April, these groups proposed several amendments calling for various aspects of the green agenda to be slashed or removed altogether. Meanwhile, the EU’s Left-leaning alliances are far more divided.

Towards the end of last month, EU climate chief Frans Timmermans warned that plans to reach Net Zero by 2050 now risked being derailed by political opposition. Next week, there will be a much clearer picture as to whether he is correct when MEPs are set to vote again on a controversial nature restoration law that resulted in a 44-44 tie last month. For now, it seems possible that the EU’s landmark emissions plan in April may come to be viewed as the high watermark for the bloc’s green agenda. 

is UnHerd’s Newsroom editor.