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European Union Green Deal - Fit for 55
European Union launches new climate plan for "our children and grandchildren"
BRUSSELS — The European Union unveiled sweeping new legislation Wednesday to help meet its pledge to cut emissions of the gases that cause global warming by 55% over this decade, including a controversial plan to tax foreign companies for the pollution they cause.
The package is intended to implement the goal of reducing average EU carbon emissions by 55% in 2030.
Seeking to transform everything from heating to transport, the European Union is seeking to expand its flagship carbon market. The bloc also wants accelerate the rate at which companies from utilities to steelmakers and cement producers are forced to curb pollution.
The legislation proposed by the EU's executive branch, the European Commission, encompasses about a dozen major proposals, ranging from the de-facto phasing out of gasoline and diesel cars by 2035 to new levies on gases from heating buildings.
They involve a revamp of the bloc's emissions trading program, under which companies pay for carbon dioxide they emit, and introduce taxes on shipping and aviation fuels for the first time.
The European Commission's proposals will need to be negotiated and approved by EU member states and the European Parliament.
The Green Deal 'Fit for 55' proposals would impose tariffs on some imports from countries with less strict rules on protecting the environment. It would also mean the end of sales in the European Union of new gas- and diesel-powered cars in just 14 years.
Many carmakers have already announced huge investments in electrification, partly in anticipation of tougher emissions targets, but want to know whether the EU will back them by building public charging stations, and how soon it wants hybrid electric/combustion vehicles to be phased out.
"By 2040, most carmakers' models will be pretty much electrified anyway," said Nick Parker, a managing director at consultancy AlixPartners. "The question is whether they (the EU) might try to force the journey along the way or leave it up to individual carmakers to decide that path for themselves."
The changes would help the EU cut emissions by at least 55% from 1990 levels by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. They’d also set a precedent for other nations seeking to clean up their economies to avert catastrophic rises in global temperatures ahead of climate talks in Scotland later this year.
"By acting now we can do things another way... and choose a better, healthier and more prosperous way for the future," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday (July 14, 2021).
"It is our generational task... [to secure] the wellbeing of not only our generation, but of our children and grandchildren. Europe is ready to lead the way."
The overhaul, the biggest since the Emissions Trading System was created in 2005, would raise to 4.2% the rate at which the pollution cap shrinks each year from 2.2% now, according to the proposals unveiled on Wednesday. The EU would also expand its carbon market to include shipping and start an adjacent emissions-trading program for heating and transport fuels. Expectations of stricter rules has already help send carbon prices to a record this year. EU carbon prices almost doubled over the past year.
“This reform could be the most crucial change to the EU ETS so far,” said Marco Mensink, director general of the European Chemical Industry Council. “We have to get it right. It has to not only set the framework for emissions reductions but also help create breakthrough technologies we urgently need.
The measures are part of a broader package to bring every sector of the EU’s economy in line with the stricter emissions goal agreed under the ambitious Green Deal. The EU ETS, a cap-and-trade program that’s a central pillar of the bloc’s strategy to cut greenhouse gases, has already brought emissions down in the past 16 years to a level just shy of its existing 2030 goal of 43%.
The plan to create an emissions trading system (ETS) for transport and buildings has been denounced as “politically suicidal” and “a huge political mistake” by Pascal Canfin, the chair of the European parliament’s environment committee and a key Macron ally. “It’s a very bad idea,” he said.
In a stark warning, he said the commission was “going to trap” lower middle class families. Hardest hit would be people in regions with poor public transport and tenants who could not pay for energy efficiency upgrades to their homes, he said. “It’s a huge political mistake, including for the European project,” Canfin said.
The French government, which takes over the EU’s rotating presidency in 2022, was forced to abandon a fuel tax rise in 2018 after a fierce backlash from gilets jaunes (yellow vest) protesters.
Apart from criticisms coming from some quarters, a consensus has formed that Europe will be out in front in confronting the climate crisis. The hope is that an aggressive economic and coordinated European campaign to meet the climate change challenge will act to motivate countries across the globe to take similar aggressive action.