EU unveils landmark climate change plan with tougher targets for foreign companies and transport industry

Tough emissions rules will be extended to the aviation and maritime sector for the first time

Tom Batchelor
Wednesday 14 July 2021 16:38
Watch live EU commissioners release draft of new climate policy proposals

The European Union has announced sweeping legislation to cut its carbon footprint by more than half by the end of the decade, including tougher caps on car emissions and a plan to tax foreign companies for the pollution they create.

The European Green Deal: Fit for 55 plan is an attempt to wean the continent off fossil fuels and will involve new national limits on emissions from buildings and tougher targets for expanding renewable energy – with an aim to produce 40 per cent of the bloc’s energy from wind, wave and solar sources by 2030.

The measures from the European Commission, the executive branch of the EU, seek to exploit growing demands for a more ambitious environmental plan amid concern that wealthy nations are not doing enough to limit the damage being done to the planet.

They go further than the EU’s existing climate proposals and are more rigorous than those set out by other major economies such as the US. Joe Biden announced in April his plan to cut US greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.

However, the blueprint, unveiled by commission president Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday, sets the bloc on a collision course with member states, including coal-reliant Poland and nuclear-dependent France.

Among the most eye-catching measures is a plan for a “Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism”, which would impose duties on foreign companies to ease pressure on European producers that cut emissions but struggle to compete with importers that do not have the same environmental standards.

Dubbed the world’s first carbon border tariff, it would impose emission costs on imports of goods including steel, cement and aluminium.

CO2 emissions from new cars would also need to fall by 55 per cent from 2030, and all new cars registered from 2035 would need to be zero-emission.

Ms Von der Leyen said her environmental “roadmap” would “combine a reduction in emissions with measures to preserve nature and to [prioritise] jobs and social balance”.

She said tough emissions rules would be extended to include the aviation and maritime sectors, noting that a single cruise ship uses as much CO2 per day as 80,000 cars.

“When it comes to climate change, doing less or doing nothing literally means changing everything,” the former German defence minister said.

“The infernos and the hurricanes that we have seen over the last few weeks are only a very small window into what our future could look like.

“I am deeply convinced that this is our generational task. This is about securing the wellbeing of not only our generation but also our children and grandchildren. And I think there is no greater and no more noble task than that. And Europe is ready to lead the way.”

Each proposal will align a wide range of EU policies with the bloc’s 55 per cent net emissions reduction target for 2030.

Most of them build on laws already in place to meet the EU’s previous goal of a 40 per cent cut in gas emissions by 2030, compared with 1990 levels – and must be endorsed by the 27 member countries and EU legislators.

Frans Timmermans, the executive vice-president for the European Green Deal, said: “This is the make-or-break decade in the fight against the climate and biodiversity crises.

“The European Union has set ambitious targets, and today we present how we can meet them. Getting to a green and healthy future for all will require considerable effort in every sector and every member state.

“Together, our proposals will spur the necessary changes, enable all citizens to experience the benefits of climate action as soon as possible, and provide support to the most vulnerable households. Europe’s transition will be fair, green and competitive.”

The plan was met with caution by climate groups. The European Environmental Bureau (EEB), a network of citizens’ organisations across the continent, warned the commission was “missing another historic opportunity to phase out fossil fuels”.

“What the commission says is ‘Fit for 55’ is unfit for our planet and unfair to society,” said Barbara Mariani, the EEB’s policy manager for climate.

“Without a fossil fuel phase-out, the fuel industry will pass on emission costs for buildings and transport to citizens and still keep making immense profits.”

Jorgo Riss, Greenpeace’s EU director, said: “Celebrating these policies is like a high jumper claiming a medal for running in under the bar.

“You can’t sidestep the rules of the game, just like you can’t ignore climate science. But this whole package is based on a target that is too low, doesn’t stand up to science, and won’t stop the destruction of our planet’s life-support systems.”

World leaders agreed six years ago in Paris to keep the global warming increase to below 2C, and ideally no more than 1.5C by the end of the century.

Scientists say both goals will be missed by a wide margin unless drastic steps are taken to begin cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

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