BRUSSELS: European Union policymakers on Wednesday unveiled their most ambitious plan yet to tackle climate change, aiming to turn green goals into concrete action this decade and set an example for the world’s other big economies to follow.
The European Commission, the EU executive body, set out in painstaking detail how the bloc’s 27 countries can meet their collective goal to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by 55% from 1990 levels by 2030 - a step towards “net zero” emissions by 2050.
This will mean raising the cost of emitting carbon for heating, transport and manufacturing, taxing high-carbon aviation fuel and shipping fuel that have not been taxed before, and charging importers at the border for the carbon emitted in making products such as cement, steel and aluminium abroad. It will consign the internal combustion engine to history.
“Yes, it is hard,” EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans told a news conference. “But it’s also an obligation, because if we renounce our obligation to help humanity, live within planetary boundaries, we would fail, not just ourselves, but we would fail our children and our grandchildren.”
The price of failure, he said, was that they would be “fighting wars over water and food”.
The “Fit for 55” measures will require approval by member states and the European parliament, a process that could take two years.
As policymakers seek to balance industrial reforms with the need to protect the economy and promote social justice, they will face intense lobbying from business, from poorer member states that want to ward off rises in the cost of living, and from the more polluting countries that face a costly transition.
‘BAR TOO LOW’
Some environmental campaigners said the Commission was being too cautious. Greenpeace was scathing.
“Celebrating these policies is like a high-jumper claiming a medal for running in under the bar,” Greenpeace EU director Jorgo Riss said in a statement.
“This whole package is based on a target that is too low, doesn’t stand up to science, and won’t stop the destruction of our planet’s life-support systems.”
But business is already worrying about its bottom line.
Peter Adrian, president of DIHK, the German association of chambers of industry and commerce, said that the high CO2 prices were “only sustainable if at the same time compensation is provided for the companies that are particularly affected”.
The EU produces only 8% of global emissions, but hopes its example will elicit ambitious action from other major economies when they meet in November in Glasgow for the next milestone U.N. climate conference.
“Europe was the first continent to declare to be climate neutral in 2050, and now we are the very first ones to put a concrete roadmap on the table,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
The package arrives days after California suffered one of the highest temperatures recorded on earth, the latest of a series of heatwaves that has hit Russia, Northern Europe and Canada.
As climate change makes itself felt from the typhoon-swept tropics to the blowtorched bushlands of Australia, Brussels proposed a dozen policies to target most big sources of the fossil fuel emissions that trigger it, including power plants, factories, cars, planes and heating systems in buildings.
The EU has so far cut emissions by 24% from 1990 levels, but many of the most obvious steps, such as reducing reliance on coal to generate power, have been taken already.
The next decade will require bigger adjustments, with a long-term eye on 2050, seen by scientists as a deadline for the world to reach net zero carbon emissions or risk climate change becoming catastrophic.
The measures follow a core principle: to make polluting more expensive and green options more attractive to the EU’s 25 million businesses and nearly half a billion people.
PLANES, SHIPS AND AUTOMOBILES
Under the proposals, tighter emission limits will make it impossible to sell petrol and diesel car sales in the EU by 2035.
To help would-be buyers who fear that affordable electric cars have too short a range, Brussels proposed that states install public charging points no more than 60 km (37 miles) apart on major roads by 2025.
An overhaul of the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS), the biggest carbon market in the world, will force factories, power plants and airlines to pay more to emit CO2. Shipowners will also be required to pay for their pollution for the first time.
A new EU carbon market will impose CO2 costs on the transport and construction sectors and on heating buildings.
Not everyone will be satisfied with a proposal to use some of the income from carbon permits to cushion the inevitable rise in low-income households’ fuel bills - especially as countries will face tighter national targets to cut emissions in those sectors.
The Commission also wants to impose the world’s first carbon border tariff, to ensure that foreign manufacturers do not have a competitive advantage over firms in the EU that are required to pay for the CO2 they have produced in making carbon-intensive goods such as cement or fertiliser.
Meanwhile, a tax overhaul will impose an EU-wide tax on polluting aviation fuels.
EU member states will also have to build up forests and grasslands - the reservoirs that keep carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
For some EU countries, the package is a chance to confirm the EU’s global leadership in fighting climate change, and to be at the forefront of those developing the technologies needed.
But the plans have exposed familiar rifts. Poorer member states are wary of anything that will raise costs for the consumer, while regions that depend on coal-fired power plants and mines want guarantees of more support for a transformation that will cause dislocation and require mass retraining.