Policymakers in the European Union unveiled their most ambitious plan yet to combat climate change on Wednesday, aiming to turn green goals into concrete action this decade and set an example for the world’s other major economies to follow.
The European Commission, the EU’s executive body, laid out in minute detail how the bloc’s 27 member countries can meet their collective goal of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by 55% from 1990 levels by 2030 – a step toward “net zero” emissions by 2050. This will imply raising the cost of emitting carbon for heating, transportation, and manufacturing, taxing previously untaxed high-carbon aviation and shipping fuel, and charging importers at the border for the carbon emitted in the manufacture of products such as cement, steel, and aluminum abroad. It will be the end of the internal combustion engine.
The “Fit for 55” measures will need to be approved by member states and the European Parliament, which could take up to two years.
They will also face intense lobbying from certain industries, poorer member states seeking to avoid price increases, and polluting countries facing a costly transition. According to a diplomat from one EU country, the package’s success will be determined by its ability to be realistic and socially fair while not destabilizing the economy.
The EU accounts for only 8% of global emissions, but it hopes that by setting a good example, other major economies will follow suit when they meet in November in Glasgow for the next major U.N. climate conference.
The package arrives just days after California experienced one of the highest temperatures ever recorded on the planet, the latest in a string of brutal heatwaves that have ravaged Russia, Northern Europe, and Canada. As the effects of climate change are felt from the typhoon-ravaged tropics to the charred bushlands of Australia, Brussels proposed a dozen policies to target the majority of major sources of the fossil fuel emissions that cause it, such as power plants, factories, cars, planes, and building heating systems.
The EU has reduced emissions by 24% since 1990, but many of the most visible steps, such as reducing reliance on coal for power generation, have already been taken.
The next decade will necessitate more drastic changes, with a long-term goal of 2050, when scientists believe the world must have reached net zero carbon emissions to avoid catastrophic climate change. The measures are based on a fundamental principle: making polluting options more expensive and green options more appealing to the EU’s 25 million businesses and nearly half a billion people.
Tighter emission limits for cars, according to the proposals, will soon make it difficult to sell petrol and diesel cars in the EU – and impossible by 2035.
An overhaul of the EU Emissions Trading System, the world’s largest carbon market, will force factories, power plants, and airlines to pay more for CO2 emissions. Ships will also be added to the ETS, for the first time requiring shipowners to pay for their pollution. A new EU carbon market will impose CO2 costs on the transportation and construction sectors, as well as on building heating. Some of the proceeds will be put into a fund to help low-income households weather the inevitable increase in their fuel bills.
The Commission also intends to impose the world’s first carbon border tariff in order to ensure that manufacturers do not have a competitive advantage over firms in the EU that are required to pay for the CO2 emitted in the production of carbon-intensive goods such as cement or fertilizer entering the EU.
Meanwhile, a tax reform will levy an EU-wide tax on polluting aviation fuels, which are currently exempt from such levies. EU member states will also be required to expand forests and grasslands, which act as reservoirs for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
For some EU countries, the package represents an opportunity to reaffirm the EU’s global leadership in combating climate change and to be at the forefront of those developing the necessary technologies.
However, the plans have revealed old schisms. Poorer member states are wary of policies that will raise consumer costs, while regions reliant on coal-fired power plants and mines want assurances of more support for a transformation that will cause disruption and necessitate mass retraining.