Tough budget talks risk delaying EU's new emissions target

FILE - In this Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018 file photo, clouds of smoke over Europe's largest lignite power plant in Belchatow, central Poland. Greenhouse gas emissions in the European Union have been reduced by 24% compared to 1990 levels, according to the blocs annual climate report. Still, the EU said Monday, Nov. 30, 2020 it need to intensify efforts to make its target of making Europe the first climate neutral continent by mid-century. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, file)
FILE - In this Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018 file photo, clouds of smoke over Europe's largest lignite power plant in Belchatow, central Poland. Greenhouse gas emissions in the European Union have been reduced by 24% compared to 1990 levels, according to the blocs annual climate report. Still, the EU said Monday, Nov. 30, 2020 it need to intensify efforts to make its target of making Europe the first climate neutral continent by mid-century. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, file) (Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

BRUSSELS – Under pressure to deliver an updated climate target this month, European Union leaders are unlikely to agree on a more ambitious number when they meet this week if they can't compromise on the 27-nation bloc's long-term budget, top European diplomat says.

The last time EU leaders discussed climate targets in October, they could not immediately adopt a proposal requiring unanimous support to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, and decided to try again during their December summit.

But a dispute over the bloc's money has since emerged as Poland and Hungary now threaten to veto a major coronavirus pandemic aid package and the EU's budget for 2021-2027 because of a mechanism linking EU funding with members’ adherence to democratic standards.

According to the diplomat, who was not authorized to speak publicly before the EU summit that starts talks Thursday, it will be “difficult to see” any agreement on climate if there is no agreement on the EU's long-term budget and recovery package.

In her ambition to make the EU carbon neutral by mid-century, the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has said she wants 37% of the 750 billion euros (nearly $900 billion) in the coronavirus recovery money to be given to EU countries to spend on environmental objectives.

A report published Monday by environmental groups gave the EU a “high” performance rating for its climate efforts, weighed down by the poor performance of members such as as Hungary, Slovenia and Poland.

Audrey Mathieu, a senior analyst at the group Germanwatch, which co-publishes the annual Climate Change Performance Index, said the 27-nation bloc stands at a crossroads.

Noting that the European Parliament has called for a 60% drop in emissions, not including measures to remove carbon from the atmosphere, Mathieu said the current draft proposal for a 55% cut being discussed by leaders in Brussels would be a “a huge step, but does not go far enough."