European Commission launches 'man on the moon' plan to cut emissions to zero by 2050

James Crisp

The European Commission on Wednesday  launched its plan to cut EU carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, in what the executive’s president described as Europe’s “man on the moon moment”.

The Green New Deal offers 100 billion euros to EU member states to help curb their global warming pollution but fossil-fuel reliant Eastern European countries are primed to fight the move. 

EU leaders will meet in the Belgian capital tomorrow and were asked by Charles Michel, the new European Council president, to back the plan, which aims to regear the economy away from fossil fuel and polluting industries and towards new technologies and behaviours. 

All members of the EU except Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have signed up to the target and EU officials predicted that summit talks would prove difficult. 

The pressure is on Mr Michel and new Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to get backing at their first summit for the flagship policy initiative.

Brussels wants a legally binding cut of 50 to 55% in EU emissions by 2030, in comparison to 1990 levels, an increase on the current 40 percent target, as it fired the starting gun on what promise to be tough negotiations over a wide-ranging raft of measures to fight climate change. 

“This is Europe’s man on the moon moment,” said Mrs von der Leyen who argued that lost jobs would be replaced in innovative green industries. 

“I am convinced that the old growth model that is based on fossil fuels and pollution is out of date,” she said.

“This transition will either be working for all and be just or it will not work at all,” she said, “The cost of the transition will be big, but the cost of non-action will be much bigger.”

The commission communication called for an overhaul of state aid rules and a programme of investment to drive the move to green and curb the pain of inevitable job losses.

Mrs von der Leyen said the Commission wants to mobilise 100 billion euros worth of investment to help the bloc's economies pay for transition away from fossil fuels. There would be a carbon border tax, essentially tariffs on imported polluting goods.

One major component is a so-called Just Transition Fund, a mechanism of at least 35 billion euros that would support “regions most exposed to decarbonisation challenge”. In total, Mrs Von der Leyen has pledged 1 trillion euros of investment over the next decade.

The plan, which also intends to promote biodiversity, building renovation and sustainable mobility across the bloc, also call for respecting the Paris climate accord to be an essential condition of all future trade agreements concluded by the EU.

World leaders agreed four years ago in Paris to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, ideally no more than 1.5 C by the end of the century. The EU will want to triumph its new commitment at a UN Climate conference in Madrid this week, if leaders back the plan.

EU states, including Britain, on Wednesday rejected a deal on new rules governing which financial products can be classified as “green” and “sustainable”. The UK wants the rules to be technologically neutral so as not to harm European investment in British nuclear power.