European Commission proposes ambitious climate change policies
PARIS — The European Commission on Wednesday presented some of the world's most ambitious plans to confront climate change, aiming to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% below 1990 levels within less than a decade.
The European Union's executive branch said it would make Europe "the world's first climate-neutral continent by 2050."
The package of proposals — which consists of 12 directives or regulations — was applauded by some environmental groups as a landmark effort. But it is unclear how many of the planned changes will remain in place after the bloc's 27 member states and the European Parliament have examined and modified them in what is expected to be a years-long process.
"Europe is now the very first continent that presents a comprehensive architecture to meet our climate ambitions," said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
Commission Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans evoked a future in which wars are fought over access to water and food unless urgent action is taken.
"There is no time to waste. People are dying in Northwest Canada because it's 50 degrees Celsius there," said Timmermans. "Northwest Canada!"
But von der Leyen said maintaining social balance would also be a key objective, emphasizing that the package would seek to preserve jobs while curbing emissions.
Her comments reflected a weariness among some European member states, after ambitious climate plans in France and other countries sparked anti-government protests in the past years.
If passed, one of the most significant changes of the "Fit for 55" package would be the creation of a "carbon border adjustment mechanism," which would impose tariffs on some goods imported from non-EU countries with weaker climate laws. In practice, environmental groups hope, this could become a powerful incentive for other nations to follow the bloc's policies.
The proposal could also target U.S. imports, European lawmakers said.
"To the United States, I would say if you are so worried, then maybe it is time you come forward with very credible plans on decarbonization of your economy," said Bas Eickhout, a European lawmaker from a Dutch Green party. "We have heard a lot of announcements, but we have not seen many concrete policies."
The European Commission also plans an expansion of the bloc's carbon market, to include cars, maritime transport and housing. Over the next decades, restrictions on car emissions are expected to be gradually tightened. Emissions of new cars would have to be cut by 100% compared to current levels until 2035, according to the commission plans. In practice, this would mean the phasing-out of all new cars running on gasoline. However, member states have so far been divided on the exact timeline. France, for instance, would prefer the deadline to be extended until 2040.
Even though the plans were widely perceived as ambitious, some nongovernmental organizations and parties with an environmental focus cautioned that the changes would put a heavy financial burden on European citizens but allow industries to continue to pollute, threatening to derail the changes through popular protests before they can have an impact.
"What the Commission says is 'Fit for 55' is unfit for our planet and unfair to society," said Barbara Mariani, policy manager for climate at the European Environmental Bureau, a nongovernmental organization, in a news release. "Europeans will be asked to pay to save the fossil fuels industry," she said.
Ariès reported from Brussels.