EU unveils 'Green Deal' plan to get Europe carbon neutral by 2050

The European Union unveiled a sweeping set of environmental initiatives on Wednesday aimed at creating the world’s first carbon-neutral continent by 2050, touching everything from state aid rules to a green industrial policy and a carbon border tax on imports.

In its much-anticipated Green Deal for Europe, the new European Commission, led by Ursula von der Leyen, laid out 50 policies to be rolled out over the next three years that would revamp rules and regulations to meet ambitious climate goals.

The EU wants to become the first big economic bloc to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050, and it expects to propose a climate law in March to enshrine the target. The new commission also wants to ramp up medium-term targets, cutting emissions by 50 to 55 percent in 2030, up from a current target of 40 percent.

It also plans to mobilize €100 billion of the EU budget and investment loans from the European Investment Bank to fund a “just transition” in poorer, eastern member states whose economies currently rely on fossil fuels.

“The green deal is Europe’s ‘man on the moon’ moment,” von der Leyen said on Wednesday. “Our goal is to reconcile the economy with our planet. The old growth model that is based on fossil fuels and pollution is out of date and out of touch with our planet. It will be a long and bumpy road. But we are determined to succeed.”

Having laid out her plans, von der Leyen’s first major task will be to convince Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to back the 2050 zero-emissions target at a summit of EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday.

The three countries have said they will not commit to the target until they can secure billions of euros in financial aid to make the transition. Details of her €100 billion Just Transition Mechanism will be unveiled in January, and it will “precisely target the most vulnerable regions and sectors,” von der Leyen said.

The Challenge of a Carbon Border Tax

Among the most contentious elements of the green deal is a planned “carbon border adjustment mechanism” to be proposed in 2021.

The commission wants to reserve the right to impose selective levies on foreign producers to protect the EU’s domestic businesses from unfair competition from countries that do not respect international climate targets. Officials said Brussels would explore a limited border tax that starts with imports of steel and cement.

The proposal faces complications as it would need to avoid falling foul of World Trade Organization Rules and risks retaliation from Europe’s trading partners.

Marcia Bernicat, U.S. ambassador to the UN’s COP25 summit, said any EU carbon border tax “would be of great concern to us.”

Targeting Jet Fuel and Aviation Emissions

Other measures planned under the green deal include a revision of Brussels’s state aid rules to allow governments to spend on technologies that reduce carbon emissions. The commission will also propose a revamp of its rule on energy taxation to open the door to an EU-wide jet fuel and aviation tax.

Officials said the tax plans were still in the early stages and would probably face steep resistance from EU governments that see tax policy as a fiercely protected part of national power.

von der Leyen will have to rally a majority among EU governments and members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to win support for her proposals. The Greens in the European Parliament want a more ambitious 65 percent emissions cut by 2030, while conservative groups have warned against accelerating the target and hurting business.

Does It Go Far Enough?

Franziska Achterberg, EU spokeswoman for Greenpeace, said the climate targets were “too little, too late.” “By delaying its proposal for the 2030 EU emissions reduction target to summer 2020, the commission risks undermining the Paris Agreement and any hope for EU climate leadership,” Achterberg said.

In an early sign of how divisive climate policy is in the EU, member states on Wednesday failed to agree on a system of rules for sustainable finance after France pushed for the inclusion of nuclear energy.

Talks broke down when France, the UK, and a host of eastern member states said they could not support a deal unless nuclear energy was given a clear green light under the classification system.

Paul Tang, a Dutch center-left MEP, said it was “shocking that on the same day the Green New Deal is presented, the compromise on a sustainable standard for investment is refused. [French president] Emmanuel Macron wants to be champion of sustainable finance but also wants to let nuclear contaminate the standard.”

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