The European Union's new executive launched a Green Deal policy package to tackle climate change on Wednesday, trumpeting it as the bloc's “man on the moon moment” – but fossil fuel-reliant eastern European states looked set to stall the initiative.
European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen’s first major proposal since taking office on December 1 will commit the EU to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.
Her proposal will feed into a discussion on Thursday among leaders of member states, but is likely to run into resistance from coal-dependent Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
“Today is the start of a journey. But this is Europe’s man on the moon moment,” von der Leyen told journalists before taking her climate pitch to the European Parliament.
“The European Green Deal is very ambitious, but it will also be very careful in assessing the impact and every single step we’re taking,” she said.
Global concern about climate change has mounted in recent months after heatwaves, droughts and wildfires that scientists say have been exacerbated by rising temperatures.
Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg has triggered a global youth-led protest movement against world leaders for their perceived inaction on climate change.
At a UN climate summit in Madrid, Thunberg accused political and business leaders on Wednesday of looking for loopholes to polish their image over the fight for the climate
“The real danger is when politicians and CEOs are making it look like real action is happening when in fact almost nothing is being done apart from clever accounting and creative PR,” said Thunberg.
At least 50 percent carbon cuts by 2030
The European Commission will propose in March 2020 new laws to make the EU climate neutral by 2050. It will also propose by mid-2020 more ambitious targets to cut emissions by 2030 from the current 40 percent target to “at least” 50 percent, according to the document published on Wednesday.
One major component is a so-called Just Transition Fund, a mechanism of at least €35 billion that would support “regions most exposed to decarbonisation challenge”.
Von der Leyen said the Commission wants to mobilise €100 billion worth of investment to help the bloc’s economies pay for transition away from fossil fuels. This comes as the European Investment Bank (EIB), the EU’s lending arm, decided on November 15 to cease funding fossil fuel projects at the end of 2021 in line with von der Leyen’s goals for it to be “Europe’s climate bank”.
She wants the EIB to dedicate half its financing to climate investment by 2025. She also plans to fund parts of the European Green Deal policies with a “Sustainable Europe Investment Plan”, with one trillion euros in investment over the coming decade.
To make the rest of the world follow suit, there would be a carbon border tax, essentially tariffs on imported polluting goods.
Sustainable agriculture and biodiversity
Von der Leyen also promised to refresh farming with policies such as the “Farm to Fork Strategy”, designed to help farmers produce food in more sustainable ways. This would mean transforming the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, which accounts for 37 percent of the bloc’s spending and is up for renewal in 2021. The Green Deal aims to ‘reduce significantly’ use of chemical pesticides, fertilisers and antibiotics.
The Green Deal will also include a biodiversity strategy for the coming 10 years, with the EU aiming for a lead role at the United Nations’ biodiversity summit in 2020. The details of its strategy are set to be unveiled in March 2020.
Promises ‘too small, too few, and too far off’
Friends of the Earth Europe said the Green Deal marked a shift in tone but did not go far enough.
“Finally, the EU is waking up to rising public concern about the planetary emergency,” said Jagoda Munic, director of the environmental NGO.
“However, the promises are too small, too few, and too far off – we're on a runaway train to ecological and climate collapse and the EU Commission is gently switching gears instead of slamming on the brakes.”
Summit showdown looms
The 2050 climate neutrality goal will be one of the main issues EU leaders tackle at their Thursday-Friday summit.
All members except Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary have signed up to the goal.
The holdouts have stopped the EU from leading the charge in the global fight against climate change during the past year, as the goal requires unanimous support.
“The Czech Republic also wants to reach carbon neutrality, but we won't make it without nuclear,” Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Twitter.
“The EU must recognise nuclear as an emission-free source. On the top of that, the costs of carbon neutrality will be huge.”
Green finance setback illustrates challenges
Asked ahead of the summit what it would take to get the holdouts to come on board, a senior EU diplomat grinned and made the gesture for money with his fingers.
Separately, in a setback for the bloc’s climate ambitions, EU states on Wednesday rejected a deal on a set of rules governing which financial products can be called “green” and “sustainable”, an EU official said.
Britain, France, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovenia opposed the deal at a meeting of EU diplomats in Brussels, fearing it would prevent investments in nuclear and coal projects from being labelled as green.
The EU official said talks with the European Parliament will have to resume in coming days to reach a deal before the end of the year.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)