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Europe Unveils Far-Reaching Climate Change Package

The European Union laid out a new set of laws and rules to curb greenhouse gas emissions as part of its massive European Green Deal, a multipronged strategy to both make Europe more modern and less of a polluter.

(CN) — In a bid to become a world leader on tackling climate change, the European Union on Wednesday unveiled a far-reaching package of draft rules and laws to force the 27-member bloc to cut its greenhouse gas emissions and meet its legal obligations under the Paris Agreement.

Among the proposals, the EU wants to expand its system for rewarding and punishing businesses for how much pollution they emit; charge a tax on foreign goods such as steel and cement that come from countries deemed to be emitting too many greenhouse gases; and further raise fuel standards for cars, ships and airplanes.

The new laws are meant to serve as the core of the European Green Deal, a multipronged strategy to wean the EU off of fossil fuels by building up renewable energies such as wind and hydrogen and making cutting carbon missions a legal requirement. In June, the EU approved a new “climate law” that makes reducing heat-trapping emissions legally binding.

The EU is laying out a comprehensive economic, financial and social framework that puts climate change science at the heart of its policies. It is considered a first-of-its-kind model.

In parallel, the EU plans to spend tens of billions of dollars on projects that reduce pollution. These funds are coming largely from a seven-year 723 billion euro (about $854 billion) coronavirus recovery fund. It has also set up a 17.5 billion euro ($20.6 billion) fund to help regions being forced to stop producing coal, lignite, peat, oil shale and gas.

On Wednesday, the EU's executive body, the European Commission, submitted its proposals to the European Parliament in Brussels, which will debate and vote on them. The proposals are expected to largely remain intact as they go through the parliamentary process this year and next, partly because parliamentarians had a hand in drafting them. Still, opposition to some of the proposals is stiff, especially among poorer Central and Eastern European nations with strong coal regions.

“The fossil fuel economy has reached its limits,” said Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, in presenting the proposals Wednesday. “The European Green Deal is our growth strategy that is moving towards a decarbonized economy.”

With this package, the EU is hoping to modernize its societies, drive economic growth and become a world leader on climate change policymaking.

“Europe was the first continent to declare to be climate neutral in 2050,” Von der Leyen said, “and now we are the very first ones to put a concrete roadmap on the table. Europe walks the talk on climate policies through innovation, investment and social compensation.”

The EU's climate law makes it a legal requirement that the bloc reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 55% compared to 1990 levels by 2030. Under the law, the EU must become climate neutral by 2050, which means it cannot be adding to global warming.

The EU's climate package, though, has its detractors. Those on the left and many environmentalists say the 55% reduction target for 2030 is far too modest and will let the EU continue to emit far too many pollutants. Those on the right, meanwhile, complain the policies will hurt businesses and workers and put Europe at an economic disadvantage.

There are concerns the poorest will be hit the hardest by the EU's green policies because fuel prices may go up and this in turn could spark backlash, protests and add to the discontent with Brussels and its bureaucrats. To offset this, the commission wants to use revenues generated from Green Deal tax hikes to help people unable to pay for more energy efficient homes and electric cars.

Wednesday's proposals envision putting new prices on carbon emissions and lowering caps on emissions from power plants and other heavy industry. This piece of the package is part of the EU's so-called Emissions Trading System, which is credited with bringing down emissions.


The EU is seeking to curb emissions in many other sectors, including aviation, maritime, road transport, building, agriculture, waste and small industries.

Under the new rules, EU states will be required to curb emissions from agriculture, such as those coming from fertilizer use and livestock. The regulations also compel EU states to protect forests and plant trees, which naturally take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. The Green Deal calls for planting three billion trees across Europe by 2030.

A set of rules called the Renewable Energy Directive seeks to ensure the EU will get 40% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. If passed, every EU state will be made to help achieve this goal.

Another set of rules, the Energy Efficiency Directive, proposes to cut down on energy use. This could be done by improving the heating and cooling of buildings. The directive requires governments to renovate 3% of their public buildings to make them more energy efficient.

The EU also proposes tougher fuel standards for cars, vans, ships and airplanes. It also wants all new cars starting from 2035 to not emit any carbon emissions, effectively spelling the end of building new vehicles with internal combustion engines. To achieve this, the EU will require member states install new charging and fuelling points on major highways every 60 kilometers (37 miles) for electric charging and every 150 kilometers (93 miles) for hydrogen refueling.

The EU is looking at revising its tax system too. The bloc plans to provide tax incentives for renewable energy and remove exemptions enjoyed by the fossil fuel industry.

To make sure European companies aren't put at a disadvantage by all these new rules, the EU is proposing to slap a tax on some foreign goods like cement and steel. This scheme is called the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism and it could put a carbon price on imports. The border tax will be heavily contested by countries like China and the United States and it could be challenged at the World Trade Organization.

This carbon tax is designed to stop European companies from moving their polluting industries outside the EU and to compel non-EU countries to do their own part to reduce carbon emissions.

EU bureaucrats expect a lot of resistance.

“We’ll get massive pushback,” Frans Timmermans, the commission's vice president in charge of the Green Deal, told CNN in a recent interview. “Any fundamental transition will get us a lot of pushback.”

On Wednesday, he said acting on climate change is a must.

“This is the make-or-break decade in the fight against the climate and biodiversity crises,” he said. “Yes it is difficult, yes it is hard. But it’s also an obligation, because if we were to 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, who in my view, if we don’t fix this, will be fighting wars over water and food.”

Ska Keller, the president of the Greens in the European Parliament, praised the package of legislation.

“This climate package can kick-start the ecological transition and is the ultimate credibility test for the European Union as the global leader on climate,” she said in a statement.

Iratxe Garcia Perez, the head of the Socialists and Democrats in parliament, also praised the package of new rules, saying tackling climate change is “the most ambitious political project of our time.”

Alexandr Vondra, a Czech parliamentarian with the right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists group, said the EU must not let its climate change policies hurt the poorest regions.

“We have to make the transition to a climate-neutral society while thinking of poorer citizens, without endangering jobs in industry and without neglecting rural and coal-dependent regions,” Vondra said. “The future must not become a project of the rich, the elites and the urbanites.”

He called it “reckless” and “ill-conceived” to make buildings and transport become part of the EU's carbon pricing system. There are concerns that this proposal will lead to major price hikes for heating homes and driving older cars.

Vondra said passing that proposal could lead to a “return [of] the gilets jaunes to Europe's streets.”

The gilets jaunes, or “yellow vests” in English, were protesters angered by French President Emmanuel Macron's proposals for fuel hikes to curb emissions. The protests overwhelmed Paris and other French cities in the winter of 2018.

“Those hardest hit would be people in regions with poor public transport infrastructure and residents unable to afford energy efficiency upgrades to their homes,” Vondra said.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

Follow Cain Burdeau on Twitter

Categories:Environment, Government, International

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