Thursday’s move also puts pressure on the European Commission under its president-elect, Ursula von der Leyen, the first woman to hold the job.
As president of the European Union’s executive branch, she commands a vast machinery of E.U. bureaucrats that manages the bloc’s day-to-day business. The European Parliament is directly elected by voters in all 28 E.U. member states.
The declaration could further pressure von der Leyen, who has pledged to increase efforts to fight climate change. Referring to what she calls a European Green Deal, she said Wednesday that Europe would become the first continent to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050 and that targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 must be made “more ambitious.”
“If there is one area where the world needs our leadership, it is on protecting our climate,” she said. “This is an existential issue for Europe — and for the world.”
The European Commission is to present a first draft of a European Green Deal after taking office in December and deliver it within 100 days.
In her published guidelines for the European Green Deal, von der Leyen proposed increasing the E.U.’s target for reducing emissions over 1990 levels by at least 50 percent until 2030. In 2018, E.U. greenhouse gas emissions were estimated at 23 percent below the 1990 level.
“She can propose targets, but in the end, she very much depends on the member states,” said Oliver Geden, a lead researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. The European Commission can only propose measures but needs the votes of enough member states to enact them into law. “I’m not sure how many member states will go there,” Geden said of von der Leyen’s proposed emission-reduction target.
The E.U. member states Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have blocked efforts to reach climate neutrality by 2050, demanding more money to help them with the transition.
Von der Leyen has pledged extra funding to help more carbon-intensive economies in the E.U. make the transition to climate-neutral industries. What has been called the “Just Transition Fund” is planned to amount to tens of billions of dollars but is still subject to negotiations. Additional funding for research and innovation is to come from a “Sustainable Europe Investment Plan,” with the aim of supporting about $1.1 trillion of investment over the next decade, according to the published guidelines.
Von der Leyen also plans by 2025 to turn the E.U.’s lending arm into “Europe’s climate bank” by dedicating half of its total financing to climate investment. She proposed extending the E.U.’s Emissions Trading System — which taxes polluting industries using a “cap and trade” system — to include the maritime sector, as well as aviation, traffic and construction sectors.
But some members of the European Parliament and activists are skeptical of von der Leyen’s commitment to her plans and — if she is serious about them — whether her mandate gives her enough leeway to pass them.
“The Commission’s structural and political constraints are likely to produce a set of watered-down, piecemeal solutions,” David Adler and Pawel Wargan of the international activist coalition Green New Deal for Europe wrote in an op-ed for Politico. “Meanwhile, the clock on climate and environmental breakdown keeps ticking away.”
Germany’s Association of Chambers of Industry and Commerce, or DIHK, criticized the deal for not proposing concrete measures for economic growth. “Merely increasing the EU’s already demanding greenhouse gas reduction targets will not help,” the DIHK wrote in a statement. “Europe does not simply need more climate policies — the EU needs climate policies that are more economically efficient.”
To meet the goal set by the Paris agreement to stay below a 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature rise, the required cuts in emissions are 7.6 percent per year on average, according to a 2019 report by the U.N. Environment Program. Scientists estimate that current targets would lead to up to 3 degrees Celsius of global heating and cause catastrophic changes across the globe, including floods, cyclones, long-lasting heat waves, and record-breaking wildfires.
E.U. member states are expected by the end of 2019 to submit their plans for meeting targets.
Ariès reported from Brussels.