(CN) — The European Union is rolling out the world's first set of laws, rules and policies to force not just the 27-nation bloc in Europe to cut back carbon emissions, but perhaps drag the rest of the world along too.
It's called the European Green Deal and it aims to lay the ground for a new financial and political paradigm based around fighting climate change by forcing businesses and societies to move toward renewable, and still-developing, energies such as hydrogen, solar, wind and biomass.
“This is Europe's man-on-the-moon moment,” said Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, when she introduced the EU's plans for the Green Deal in 2019.
She has made the Green Deal a central pillar to her presidency, the first by a woman in the EU's 63-year history. Von der Leyen, Germany's former defense minister, wants to modernize Europe through renewable energy and digitalization.
A large part of this pioneering package of climate change legislation is set to be unveiled by the European Commission on July 14 during a session of the European Parliament, the EU's only directly elected governing body. The parliament is expected to debate the legislation and pass it within the coming months.
Importantly, the Green Deal is underpinned by a recently approved “climate law” that binds the hands of unwilling politicians too: Cutting emissions is now a legal requirement under EU law. A bitterly divided European Parliament approved the law in June with left-wing and green politicians complaining its mandate to cut emissions by 55% by 2030 does not go far enough and far-right and pro-business politicians warning it will put Europe at a competitive disadvantage.
The July 14 package of climate rules – and tougher revisions to existing regulations – is expected to be extensive. The EU is looking at charging a controversial tax on some foreign goods, such as steel and fertilizer, coming from places not doing their part to reduce carbon emissions – a so-called “carbon border adjustment tax.” Additionally, it is looking at raising even further fuel standards for vehicles, ships and airplanes, which could lead to increased taxes on low-grade fuels.
The EU also is introducing new financial mechanisms to penalize businesses and even building owners for their emissions and encouraging climate-friendly investments. Meanwhile, the EU is devising new standards to determine what investments – both public and private – can be labeled as sustainable and green.
There's stuff for the losers too: The Green Deal sets out to help people and businesses that get pushed out of work, such as those in the coal regions of Poland and Hungary. The EU is calling this its Just Transition Fund. In June, EU leaders set aside 17.5 billion euros (about $20.6 billion) to help regions being forced to stop producing coal, lignite, peat, oil shale and gas. Helping workers and businesses hurt by green policies is viewed as critical to prevent public unrest and backlash, as was seen with the anti-fuel-tax protests in 2018 by the so-called “yellow vests” in France.
Experts say this package of new laws and rules reflects the urgency people in Europe, but also around the rest of the world, feel about climate change. Europe, like every region on the planet, is reeling from the effects of climate change, which include more frequent flooding, heat waves, drought, glacier melting, intense storms and a loss of biodiversity.
Polls show Europeans see climate change as a top concern and Green party candidates, especially in northern Europe, are riding a wave of support. This shift toward the Greens and support for climate change legislation can be attributed in part to massive street protests that broke out before the pandemic, often inspired by Swedish teenager and activist Greta Thunberg.