Lawmakers delay decision on new EU climate policy chief

FILE PHOTO: Wopke Hoekstra, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Prime Minister arrives at the Binnenhof for the Council of Ministers

By Kate Abnett

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -The European Parliament's environment committee on Monday delayed a decision on whether to accept former Dutch foreign minister Wopke Hoekstra as the EU's next climate change policy chief, after he sought their backing in a three-hour hearing.

The decision on Hoekstra, a centre-right conservative, is now due on Tuesday afternoon following a hearing of Maros Sefcovic, a social-democrat who is the nominee to take on the job of coordinating the EU's overall green policies.

"The [committee] coordinators just decided to suspend their final decision," committee chair Pascal Canfin said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Some EU officials said making the two decisions at the same time was a way for the opposing political groups to make sure their rival's candidate only gets approved if their own candidate does. Each needs support from two-thirds of the committee to pass.

Some lawmakers suggested they would scrutinise Hoekstra further before giving him the green light to lead CO2 emissions-cutting measures in the 27-country EU.

"We want to have more information from him," Green lawmaker Michael Bloss told reporters, adding that while he had been "positively surprised" by some of Hoekstra's plans, the details of how he would make them happen were "vague".

Hoekstra outlined his plans for the job on Monday - pledging to stand firmly by the EU's climate targets amid political pushback, and to try to ensure the bloc sets a fresh target to slash its net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 90% by 2040.

"I will use all instruments available to aim to enable the EU to reach the minimum recommended target of 90% net reductions," Hoekstra told lawmakers, adding that he would present an analysis in early 2024 of what the EU's 2040 goal should be.

The EU's official advisers have said it should commit to slash its greenhouse gas emissions by 90-95% by 2040 - although some industries have called for a weaker target.

Climate action is facing political pushback in Europe as tensions mount with China and the U.S. over the race to manufacture green tech, and as countries adapt to record-breaking floods, drought and deadly heat as a result of human-caused global warming.

Hoekstra pledged to push at the UN's COP28 climate summit in November for a global phase-out of CO2-emitting fossil fuels, and said he would seek new sources of climate funding for vulnerable countries - potentially by skimming off revenues from the EU's carbon market.

He pledged tougher action to phase out the 52 billion euros ($54.6 billion) that EU countries spend subsidising fossil fuels each year - including by culling such subsidies from the EU's next budget.

(Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Jan Harvey, Angus MacSwan and David Gregorio)