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28th Sep 2020

Von der Leyen: 'Green Deal is our man-on-moon moment'

  • 'The Green Deal is not just about cutting emissions, it is also new European growth strategy,' said commission chief, Ursula von der Leyen (Photo: European Commission)

The European Commission presented the EU's new Green Deal to MEPs on Wednesday (11 December), vowing to "leave no-one behind" to achieve climate neutrality by 2050.

"This is Europe's 'man on the moon' moment," said the commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, adding that this first package of proposals aims to reconcile "our economy with our planet".

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The Green Deal proposes an extensive revision of existing legislation in all sectors of the economy, such as transport, energy, agriculture or buildings.

The biggest political groups of the European Parliament supported the shift by the commission. But the the Green Deal was also criticised for not being ambitious enough or credible.

The commission wants to increase the EU's emissions reductions target for 2030 to at least 50 percent and towards 55 percent (compared with 1990 levels) by summer 2020 - the official target is currently 40 percent.

'Not only emissions cut'

However, this figure remains controversial in the parliament as MEPs recently declared a global "climate emergency" and agreed on at least 55 percent emission cut by 2030 to ensure climate neutrality by 2050.

"The proposal of 'at least 50 percent emissions reduction' does not send a good signal to the rest of the world," said socialist MEP Jytte Guteland, who believes that the commission is being "stubborn" and should have raised the ambition for 2030 to avoid problems in the parliament.

However, according to von der Leyen, "the Green Deal is not just about cutting emissions, it is also a new European growth strategy".

"The climate strategy and an industrial strategy should always go hand-in-hand," said MEP Esther de Lange from the European People's Party (EPP), who believes that to achieve climate neutrality Europe must count on market-based instruments rather than prohibitions and taxes.

The initial proposal of the commission to create a carbon border tax on imports to protect Europe's economy has slightly changed to a "carbon border adjustment mechanism" for selected sectors.

Although the commission says that it will compatible with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules and other international obligations of the EU, the legal basis of such mechanism is still unclear.

A fair transition

"Every country must find its way, but the objective must be the same," von der Leyen added. To do so, the commission will propose a 'Just Transition Fund,' based on the public and private investment that would help sectors and regions adapt their industries to the low-carbon economy.

Von der Leyen wants to reach a total of €100bn in the next seven years for this fund.

However, according to the chair of the parliament's environmental committee, liberal MEP Pascal Canfin, "it is important for the commission to structure the narrative around this figure".

The announcement of this fund, originally expected before the December's EU summit, has been delayed until January.

As a result, it is unclear if all member states will be able to unanimously agree on the commitment of making the EU climate-neutral by 2050 during the EU Council starting on Thursday.

According to MEP Alexandr Vondra from the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), "it will all be for nothing unless we find a way that can deliver this agenda, including properly funding this green transition in the communities and sectors set to be the most affected".

The real cost

Additionally, the commission estimated that achieving the 2030 climate and energy targets will require €260bn of additional annual investment - also coming from both the public and private sector.

The commission will try to push negotiations for a high climate and environmental ambition within the next multiannual financial framework (MFF) - which is likely to keep funding fossil fuel projects - and support the European Investment Bank's transformation to become Europe's 'Climate Bank'.

During the plenary session, the Greens/EFA asked von der Leyen for coherence in her policy-making, pointing out that is not logical to use a quarter of the MFF to help the climate and the rest to destroy it.

"It's time to exclude any future fossil fuel subsidies from the EU budget so that European tax-payers are not funding climate-wrecking projects," said Ska Keller, co-president of the Greens/EFA, who believes that the Green Deal needs clear and binding measures that limit global warming to 1.5 degrees - main objective of the UN Paris Agreement.

Meanwhile, GUE/NGL presented a policy plan for a 'Green & Social New Deal for Europe' that tackles climate change with "radical action" in 10 different political areas.

"If the commission wants to save the planet, it has to act now and not just talk about it. We present this concrete plan to limit emissions, guarantee the financing of projects and respect the objectives of the Paris Climate Agreement, as opposed to the Commission's proposal because people and planet deserve better," co-president of GUE/NGL Martin Schirdewan stated.

Von der Leyen will present on Thursday the Green Deal to EU leaders in the EU summit, while Timmermans is expected to announce it at the UN climate conference (COP25) in Madrid.

Timmermans warns on cost of inaction on climate

The Green Deal commissioner, Frans Timmermans, said the costs of inaction in climate policy are "tremendously high". However, it is still unclear if member states will unanimously agree on the EU's 2050 climate-neutrality goal at next week's summit.

Timmermans to end EU climate 'contradictions'

Fossil fuel subsidies should end and there is "no future in coal", the EU's would-be green commissioner, Frans Timmermans, has said in his pledge to make the EU carob neutral.

Von der Leyen warns on EU budget cuts

The new EU Commission president will tell EU leaders next week that they need to put money behind their pledges for border protection, defence policy and fighting climate change.

Opinion

Why Poland couldn't sign up to Green New Deal

We need to take into account the different state of economic and social development of each country, not to mention their varying energy systems. We cannot put a climate muzzle on economic growth.

Opinion

Methane emissions will be test of EU's Green Deal

Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is one area where the EU has a major opportunity to apply its market power to drive down global emissions, both through methane legislation and diplomacy.

Feature

The 150 random French citizens advising Macron

Some 150 randomly-picked men and women make up Emmanuel Macron's Citizens' Climate Convention. This week Macron invited them to the Élysée Palace and promised - nearly - all of their wishes would come true .

France shuts oldest reactor amid Macron climate pledges

France's oldest nuclear power plant finally closed on Tuesday, one day after president Emmanuel Macron pledged to speed up the country's transition to a greener economy responding to the proposals from the French citizens' convention on climate.

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