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French President Emmanuel Macron, second right, greets European Council President Charles Michel, second left, at an EU summit at the European Council building, in Brussels, on Oct. 15, 2020.

Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images

European Union countries edged closer to agreement on a new climate target at a summit on Thursday, but deferred a deal on the emissions-cutting goal to a meeting in December.

The leaders' discussion in Brussels was their first on upgrading the existing EU target of a 40% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

The EU’s executive, the European Commission, has said the bloc needs a cut of at least 55% by 2030, against 1990 levels, to achieve the goal of net zero emissions by 2050 that all 27 countries bar coal-dependent Poland have committed to.

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The leaders did not endorse a specific 2030 target on Thursday, but agreed to “return to the issue” in December, with the aim of finalizing the goal by year-end.

The EU takes decisions by unanimity. Once countries agree a common position on the 2030 target, they must strike a deal with the European Parliament, which wants a 60% emissions cut.

Leaders agreed to postpone the deal until countries have more information on the national impact of the target. That could placate Poland, which has said it cannot back a new climate goal without this analysis.

The Council of EU leaders “invites the Commission to conduct in-depth consultations with member states to assess the specific situations and to provide more information about the impact at member states' level,” a joint statement said.

It also confirmed the 2030 emissions-cutting target would be met “collectively” at the EU level. This could help convince the Czech Republic, which said on Thursday it could support an EU-wide 55% emissions cut by 2030, but that it could not achieve that goal at a national level.

“Every country has a different energy mix and we have to take it into consideration. So if we agree on a 55% average in the EU, the Czech Republic doesn’t have any problem,” Prime Minister Andrej Babis said.

Babis also represented Poland at the summit, since Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki is self-isolating after contact with a person infected with COVID-19.

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“We are not sure, even roughly, what the cost would be for individual countries,” said an official from a country that has not yet pledged support for the 55% emissions-cutting goal.

But if the EU allocates sufficient funds from its next budget to help carbon-intensive countries meet the goal, “then we will not get in the way of the consensus” in December, the official said.

Roughly half of the EU’s 27 members – including Germany, France, Spain, Latvia and Denmark – have said they support the “at least 55%” goal. The target would usher in sweeping changes to EU policies, including tighter car emissions standards and higher carbon costs for industry and airlines.

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