Germany’s Ursula von der Leyen vowed to provide rapid but just climate ambition on Wednesday after the EU Parliament gave final approval for her new five-year European Commission to take office from Dec. 1.
The assembly voted in Strasbourg to confirm the centre-right politician’s line-up of commissioners by 461 to 157, sealing its appointment a month later than planned after MEPs initially rejecting three nominees.
“We do not have a moment to waste. The faster Europe moves, the greater the advantage will be for our citizens, our competitiveness and our prosperity,” von der Leyen told the Parliament after the ballot.
She stressed that her pledge to strive for climate neutrality by mid-century under a ‘European Green Deal’ would cut emissions while growing the economy and jobs.
She said this would have to be “inclusive” of all member states – a nod to coal-dependent eastern states wary of the costs of such a change – and that any new EU trade deals would include clauses protecting the environment.
The 28-nation bloc has already cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 22% since 1990, while growing its economy by 58% in that time.
Von der Leyen has vowed to propose a new climate bill within her first 100 days in office, intending to set into law the 2050 net zero emission goal.
Details of the proposal are yet to be finalised, but von der Leyen’s climate chief Frans Timmermans indicated last month that further proposals to raise the bloc’s interim, binding 2030 emission goal underpinning the EU ETS cap would only come in later proposals.
Timmermans said he would be “extremely surprised” if the EU doesn’t move towards raising its 2030 emissions reduction target to at least 55% below 1990 levels, up from the current 40% and von der Leyen’s minimum 50% promise.
Any legislative proposals from the Commission must be agreed by the EU Parliament and the Council of member states.
The parliament appears keen to include a deepening of the 2030 target in the ‘100 days’ bill, which could enable the bloc to legislate a new target ahead of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow next November and reiterate global leadership on climate action ahead of the formal 2021 start of the Paris Agreement.
Member states are likely to be more hesitant though, with just eight of the 28 so far supporting a higher 2030 target of 55%.
The mid-century neutrality goal represents a level of ambition already endorsed politically by 25 of the bloc’s 28 leaders in the Council, which is working towards a unanimous agreement by year-end.
“Delaying [setting a higher 2030 target] could put the EU in the back seat of global climate negotiations and undermine its role in shaping the discussions on the increase of the targets next year,” said Wendel Trio, director of green group coalition CAN Europe, which is calling for a 65% emissions reduction goal for 2030 that it believes aligns with the 1.5C temperate limit of the Paris Agreement.
But other observers expect the ‘100 days’ bill to omit any ramping up of the 2030 target, and for that legislation to come separately and by autumn of 2020.
Other aspects of Von der Leyen’s climate strategy include an expansion of the EU ETS to other sectors including shipping, a European carbon border tax to protect industry, and turning parts of the member state-owned European Investment Bank into a climate bank with a new ‘Just Transition Fund’ to support the people and regions hardest hit by the drive towards decarbonisation.
By Ben Garside – firstname.lastname@example.org