The European Union’s new executive is set to face opposition to its new “hallmark” Green Deal from fossil fuel reliant eastern Europe, as the newly anointed European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen lays out bold aims for climate neutrality by 2050.
Von der Leyen presented her Green Deal on Wednesday in Brussels, Belgium, calling the official launch of the series of radical policy shifts “Europe’s man on the moon moment.”
“Today is the start of a journey,” von der Leyen said at the European Commission before pitching her flagship policy to the European Parliament. “The European Green Deal is very ambitious, but it will also be very careful in assessing the impact and every single step we are taking.”
Von der Leyen said in remarks at a European Parliament Plenary Session in July in Strasbourg that “bold steps together” were needed to realize ambitious climate goals, adding that “our current goal of reducing our emissions by 40 percent by 2030 is not enough.”
“We must go further. We must strive for more. A two-step approach is needed to reduce CO2 emissions by 2030 by 50, if not 55 percent,” relative to 1990 levels.
“I want Europe to become the first climate-neutral continent in the world by 2050,” she said, in reference to the “climate-neutral” agenda put forward in the 2015 Paris Agreement at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) political conference.
Her two-step approach involves not just adopting ambitious climate-neutral aims for the EU, but convincing other advanced economies to adopt similarly bold goals.
“The EU will lead international negotiations to increase the level of ambition of other major economies by 2021,” she said.
The European Green Deal roadmap (pdf), published Wednesday, covers all sectors of the economy, notably transport, energy, agriculture, buildings, as well as industries like steel, cement, ICT, textiles, and chemicals.
The deal includes an expanded EU emissions-trading system and a tax to curb the risk of “carbon leakage.”
“If this risk materializes, there will be no reduction in global emissions, and this will frustrate the efforts of the EU and its industries to meet the global climate objectives of the Paris Agreement,” the roadmap states.
One major component of the plan is a so-called “Just Transition Fund,” a mechanism of at least 35 billion euros that would support the “regions most exposed” to the “decarbonization challenge.”
The new European Commission head has also called for turning the European Investment Bank (EIB) into “Europe’s climate bank” that would allocate half its total financing to U.N.-led climate actions by 2025.
In a policy plan, Von der Leyen has also proposed a “Sustainable Europe Investment Plan” that would fund parts of her Green Deal—which she called “Europe’s hallmark”— with one trillion euros over the next ten years.
Her proposal will feed into a discussion on Thursday among leaders of member states. But Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic were already objecting to a draft summit decision on the issue, according to diplomats and documents.
Summit Showdown Looms
Polish MEP Ryszard Legutko, co-chair of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR), a center-right political group in the European Parliament, suggested during Wednesday’s debate that the bold aims of the new decarbonization scheme would face stiff opposition from constituents unless they are watered down or a flexible path is provided for fossil fuel-reliant member states to hit the targets.
“It is crucial that all Member States can sign up to the overall goals of the Green Deal, otherwise they will never be able to get their public to buy in to the sudden increase in our climate ambitions,” Legutko said. “For them to be able to reduce their emissions in a sustainable way, we need to recognize that all our economies are different, and will require flexibility and specific programs to help them deliver the new goals.”
Legutko said that so far, the Green Deal has raised more questions than answers.
“Are the new climate aims of the Commission credible? Are they achievable? Is it possible that the new Commission, within just 10 days of taking office, is able to fully comprehend how radically our economies would change under the European Green Deal?” Legutko said, according to Polish national television TVP.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš told von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel that his country would incur significant costs from embarking on a “climate-neutral” transformation.
“Given the very different starting positions, reaching climate neutrality will require more investments for some Member States … we have to be sure that the incentives and the enabling framework to be put in place, especially adequate funding, are provided to cover the costs of such a transition,” Babiš wrote in a letter, cited by Politico.
Alexandr Vondra, ECR Group Environment spokesman, said that “the EU can have all the ambition in the world but we will only support the Green Deal if it delivers policies that are credible and achievable. It will all be for nothing unless we find a way that can actually deliver this agenda, including properly funding this green transition in the communities and sectors set to be the most affected.”
The 2050 “climate neutrality” goal will be one of the main issues EU leaders tackle at their Thursday-Friday summit. All members except Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary have signed up to the goal.
The holdouts have stopped the EU from leading the charge in implementing the U.N.’s climate change policies over the past year, which call for unanimous global support.
“The Czech Republic also wants to reach carbon neutrality, but we won’t make it without nuclear,” Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Twitter. “The EU must recognize nuclear as an emission-free source [of energy]. On top of that, the costs of carbon neutrality will be astronomical.”
In a preview of possible outcomes, the head of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party Jarosław Kaczyński and behind-the-scenes shot-caller said in 2014 in context of EU climate negotiations that Polish growth prospects depend on the continued use of coal.
“It is in Poland’s interest to continue to use coal-based energy and for the country’s growth to continue unencumbered by a massive spike in energy costs,” Kaczyński said, according to local media. “At this point, the only possibility is a veto. If the Polish government does not proceed with a veto but strikes some sort of compromise, then it will have to bear responsibility for the fact that the opportunity for our country to catch up economically [to the rest of Europe] within the next several decades will either suffer a major setback or will simply be rendered impossible.”
Separately, in another setback for the bloc’s climate ambitions, EU states on Wednesday rejected a deal on the set of rules that are to govern which financial products can be called “green” and “sustainable,” an EU official told Reuters.
Echoes of Democrats’ ‘Green New Deal’
The European Green Deal appears conceived in the same spirit as the expensive and expansive Green New Deal (GND) proposed by Democrats. Both schemes are concepts for a radically new clean energy economy based on yet-to-be tested engines of economic growth.
The GND resolution calls for “a new national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II and the New Deal.”
Seeking to spurn carbon dioxide-producing fossil fuels while spurring carbon-free sources of energy, the GND charts a set of goals and guiding principles for candidates to flesh out specific policy proposals.
Most of the Democratic 2020 contenders have expressed support for the GND, including the entire leaderboard.
Critics of the GND, including Trump and the Republicans, denounce the scheme as costly, radical, and socialist.
“This is a nonsensical plan that basically gives away trillions of dollars,” said Daniel Turner, Founder and Executive Director of Power the Future, in a conversation with The Epoch Times.
“Bernie wants to do this to the tune of $16 trillion dollars,” Turner said, referring to a version of the GND proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders. “This is totally devoid of math, it’s devoid of physics, it’s devoid of economics.”
“When he says we are going to be carbon-free by 2030, we’re going to produce all of our electricity and all of our transportation without fossil fuels. That’s just a myth,” Turner said. “That’s just not physically, technologically possible to do right now.”
Turner argues that a top-down state-driven push to reject fossil fuels and adopt green energy would cause massive job losses and spikes in prices of food and electricity, hitting America’s poorest the hardest. Besides, Turner adds, a GND-inspired transition is only possible under circumstances of greater government control and reduced civil liberties.
“The Green New Deal is not about the environment and it’s not about climate change.” Turner argues. “It’s a socialist manifesto. This is a way to restructure America.”
Saikat Chakrabarti, former chief of staff to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and author of the GND, appears to admit as much. “The interesting thing about the Green New Deal is it wasn’t originally a climate thing at all,” Chakrabarti said during a meeting with Washington governor Jay Inslee in July. “We really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing.”
Commenting on the economic aspects of Europe’s Green Deal, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans said, “The European Green Deal is an opportunity to improve the health and well-being of our people by transforming our economic model.”
“We all have an important part to play and every industry and country will be part of this transformation. Moreover, our responsibility is to make sure that this transition is a just transition, and that nobody is left behind as we deliver the European Green Deal,” Timmermans said.
“The European Green Deal is our new growth strategy,” Von der Leyen said. “It shows how to transform our way of living and working.”
Geologist Gregory Wrightstone, author of “Inconvenient Facts: The Science That Al Gore Doesn’t Want You to Know,” told The Epoch Times that a radical shift away from fossil fuels into unproven and unreliable sources of energy would cause not just economic contraction, but more human misery.
“We’re being told: ‘No, don’t use our resources to better mankind. You need to quit using fossil fuels that are actually lifting people out of generational poverty,’” Wrightstone said.
“There are an estimated 4 billion people around the earth who are living in energy poverty. There are 4 million deaths a year from lung disease from people cooking in their homes with wood, a lot of it dried dung. They could benefit from more electrification, propane, compressed natural gas, so they don’t have to die an early death.
“What these people are doing who are pushing the Green New Deal and the Paris Climate Accord, they’re destining billions of people around the world to continued generational poverty,” Wrightstone said. “We’ve been lifting people out of poverty using fossil fuels by providing abundant, affordable, reliable energy and not one of those three words are associated with wind or solar.”
Reuters contributed to this report.