© Reuters. File photo: A general view of the electrical tower and power lines from the Uniper coal-fired power plant in Hanau, Germany, in the early morning of November 23, 2016 REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

By Kate Arnett

Brussels (Reuters)-This week, the EU will take the lead in taking climate policy action among the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases and has formulated a number of ambitious plans to significantly reduce emissions over the next decade.

If approved, these policies will enable the European Union-the world’s third largest economy-to embark on the goal of reducing global warming emissions by 55% by 2030 from 1990 levels.

The “suitable for 55 people” package released on Wednesday will still face months of negotiations between 27 EU countries and the European Parliament.

Other major economies including China and the United States — the world’s top two emitters — have pledged to achieve net zero emissions, and scientists say the world must achieve this goal by 2050 to avoid catastrophic climate change .

However, the EU is the first country to comprehensively reform legislation, aiming to promote the EU’s 25 million companies and nearly 1 billion people to make more environmentally friendly choices within this decade.

“Everyone has a goal. But turning it into policies that lead to real emissions reductions is the most difficult part,” said Jos Delbeck, a former senior policymaker who developed some of the EU’s flagship climate policies.

By 2019, EU emissions were 24% lower than 1990 levels. The remaining 21% will reach the 55% target-and it will only take 9 years.

Full economy

The European Commission will propose 12 policies on Wednesday, targeting four areas: energy, industry, transportation and building heating.

Emissions from the European power sector are declining rapidly, but other sectors are stagnating.

Emissions from cars, airplanes and ships, which account for a quarter of the EU’s total, are rising. Buildings generate one-third of the EU’s emissions, and, like factories in Europe, many households use the heat generated by fossil fuels.

In short, most of the draft measures will encourage companies and consumers to choose more environmentally friendly alternatives than polluting alternatives.

For example, a leaked draft proposal will impose a tax on polluting aviation fuel for the first time and give low-carbon aviation fuel a 10-year tax holiday. The reform of the EU carbon market is also expected to increase the cost of carbon dioxide for industries, power plants and airlines, and force ships to pay for pollution.

The list of proposals is long. Tighter EU car carbon dioxide standards may effectively ban the sale of new gasoline and diesel cars in 2035. EU countries will face more ambitious goals to expand renewable energy.

Brussels will also announce the details of its world’s first carbon border tariff, with the goal of importing high-emission goods produced abroad, such as steel and cement. This makes EU trading partners, including Russia and China, uneasy.

Climate policy returns

As EU countries and the European Parliament negotiate the proposal, the political road ahead may be bumpy.

These plans have exposed familiar rifts between the wealthier Western and Nordic European Union countries where electric vehicle sales are soaring, and the poorer Eastern countries that worry about the social costs of economic separation from coal.

The capitals of EU member states are particularly concerned about the European Commission’s plan to launch a carbon market for transportation and household heating, which may increase household fuel costs.

The committee has pledged to set up social funds to protect low-income families from costs, and urged countries to use the EU’s 800 billion euros COVID-19 recovery fund to help people isolate houses and create jobs in clean technologies such as hydrogen.

The unveiling of “Fit for 55” will make EU citizens more aware of climate policy than ever before, testing the European public’s broad support for ambitious climate action.

Manon Dufour of E3G, an independent climate change think tank, said: “There is no doubt that this plan emerged during a large-scale socioeconomic crisis.” The EU “must pay more attention to social impact.”

Policy makers are also preparing for an industry lobbying storm. The steel and cement industries in Europe are already opposing plans to terminate free carbon dioxide emissions permits and force manufacturers to pay more in the event of pollution.

Past attempts to tighten carbon dioxide standards for automakers have met with strong industry opposition. But as European giants such as Volkswagen (DE:) have pledged to end sales of internal combustion engines in Europe in the 2030s, some governments have stated that it is time for laggards to join.

Speaking of a potential proposal to ban the sale of new internal combustion engine vehicles by 2035, an EU diplomat said: “The committee basically needs to wake up and smell the coffee — it’s time to actually include it in legislation.”

First mover (DIS) advantage

With its world-first package plan, the EU also aims to enhance its global climate leadership. However, it is not clear whether this is enough to cause other major economies to take equally ambitious actions at the UN Climate Conference in Glasgow, Scotland in November.

“The challenge is that other big players—especially China and the United States—need to get involved,” said Tom Levitt-Karnak, the chief political strategist of the United Nations, before the 2015 Paris Agreement. “It remains to be seen whether the EU can achieve this goal diplomatically.”

Brussels said that now is the time to push Europe’s climate policy to the world. Most of the diplomatic increase required will target carbon border tariffs, which the EU says will put its companies on a more equal footing with competitors in countries with weaker carbon policies.

These proposals will also push EU industry to invest in expensive green technologies. Early action can give European companies a competitive advantage in new products such as low-carbon steel produced with green hydrogen in the global market, but the production of these products will cost manufacturers more.

“At the end of this transition, our economy will look much better, and we can control the climate crisis,” Frans Timmermans, EU commissioner for climate policy, told CNN last week. “This is the point.”



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