By Kate Abnett
(Reuters) - The European Union is overestimating the emissions-cutting potential of climate action schemes outlined in its next budget and should change its methodology for assessing their effectiveness, auditors said.
The executive European Commission has pledged to spend 25% of the bloc's 2021-27 budget -- setting aside roughly 320 billion euros (288.45 billion pounds) at current prices -- to help the 27-nation EU become "climate neutral" by 2050.
But the European Court of Auditors (ECA) said in a report published on Thursday that the Commission had overstated the current 2014-2020 budget's contribution to tackling climate change and warned the same was likely to be true in 2021-27.
"The anticipated contributions to climate-related spending, in particular from some agricultural schemes, are likely to be overstated," ECA member Joelle Elvinger told Reuters.
"Without a robust methodology, the estimated climate spending may not be reliable."
Agricultural programmes are expected to make up nearly half of climate spending from the next EU budget.
ECA said Commission estimates of these schemes' emissions-cutting potential were "unrealistic" and did not account for the negative impact of other agricultural schemes that caused extra emissions by increasing livestock breeding and fertiliser use.
It said the Commission should amend its methodology to account for this impact and balance it with increased climate spending in other areas.
"In the next long-term budget, we have introduced a series of improvements to make sure our programmes better contribute towards the climate objective," a Commission spokesperson said.
The Commission said it had proposed tougher EU environmental standards for upcoming agricultural spending.
It also plans to ban funding for fossil fuel projects from parts of the new seven-year budget, which member states will attempt to agree on this month.
(Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by Catherine Evans)