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EU enters battle over its green revolution

  • Published at 09:03 pm July 14th, 2021
power plant
Steam rises from the Niederaussem lignite power plant, in Niederaussem, Germany REUTERS

The battle unfolded over the organization’s bold pledge of net-zero emissions by 2050

The EU went into battle on Wednesday to secure a path to its bold pledge of carbon neutrality by 2050, triggering an epic political clash over electric cars and fuel prices that could last for years.

The mammoth plan was unveiled by the European Commission and is intended to transform the bloc's economy from fossil fuel dependency to a world of net-zero emissions.

Brussels also hopes to establish Europe as the unquestioned leader on meeting the goals of the Paris climate accord.

"Europe is now the very first continent that presents a comprehensive architecture to meet our climate ambitions," EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told reporters in Brussels.

"We have the goal, but now we present the roadmap to how we are going to get there," she added.

The myriad proposals include an effective ban on the sale of new petrol-driven cars from 2035, one of the boldest moves against gas-guzzlers ever, and one that has already raised concerns in Paris and Berlin.

The proposals were announced by the European Commission's environment supremo Vice President Frans Timmermans.

At the heart of the legislative package is the ambition to breathe new life into the EU's flawed Emissions Trading System (ETS), the world's biggest carbon market, where industry pays for the right to pollute.

The laws will now snake their way through the EU's legislative system amid high-stakes horse-trading in the European Parliament and among the bloc's 27 member states, egged on by industry lobbyists and green activists.

Environmentalists swiftly denounced the laws as not going far enough -- with the European Environmental Bureau decrying a plan that was "unfit and unfair" to fight climate change effectively.

One major fear is resistance from the motoring public in a continent-wide replay of the "yellow vests" protests that erupted in France when the government imposed a new fuel tax in the name of defending the environment.

'Fit for 55'

The legislative push is being promoted as the "Fit for 55" package, as its central aim is to align existing EU laws and targets with a deepened 55 percent net emissions reduction by 2030.

The previous objective was a cut of at least 40% from 1990 levels.

Another pillar is a carbon levy that will be paid by non-European companies at the bloc's external border to ensure dirtier imports aren't allowed an unfair advantage.

The levy will be called a "carbon border adjustment mechanism" and polluting companies importing goods into the EU will have to buy ETS carbon permits, a move likely to antagonize EU trading partners like Russia, China and India.

Last-minute infighting

To ease the blow, European rivals of the importers --  industries such as steel, cement, aluminium, fertilisers and electric power -- would see their existing free carbon permits phased out.

Sources reported serious infighting at the European Commission as the final touches were being put on the proposals.

Especially sensitive were measures to impose sustainable and probably more expensive fuels in public-facing sectors such as transport, heating and cooling -- as well as construction.

Another big battle will come from airlines over a measure to tax aviation fuel for intra-European flights. Tourist destinations such as Spain, Portugal and Greece will hope to defang the proposal.

Mainly eastern member states, such as Poland, which rely on coal, will resist tighter emissions reduction targets and demand financial aid to change their ways.

And environmentalists are unconvinced by plans to promote natural carbon sinks like forests and meadows, fearing an effort to conceal a lack of ambition in cutting emissions off at the source.

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