BRUSSELS (AN) — The European Union's executive body launched ambitious plans on Wednesday to create "the first climate-neutral continent by 2050," a three-decade blueprint to sustainably overhaul Europe's trade, industry and politics.
The European Commission said its European Green Deal is about improving people's well-being through natural habitat protections and climate neutrality — net zero emissions of greenhouse gases.
The 50-point plan, revolving around the addition and removal of an equal amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, would remake the 28-nation bloc's economy, collectively the world's largest. It also would help reshape 21st century climate policy, even without cooperation from China and the United States, the two nations that emit by far the most CO2, methane and other warming gases.
Among the new proposals are a law requiring emissions to fall to net zero by 2050, a World Trade Organization-compliant tariff that would be imposed on climate-unfriendly nations, and a pledge to include the 2015 Paris Agreement's binding climate goals in all future comprehensive trade deals.
"Our goal is to reconcile the economy with our planet, to reconcile the way we produce and the way we consume with our planet and to make it work for our people," Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said in a statement at Brussels.
"We do not have all the answers yet. Today is the start of a journey," she said. "But this is Europe's ‘man on the moon' moment. The European Green Deal is very ambitious, but it will also be very careful in assessing the impact and every single step we are taking.The European Green Deal is an invitation for all to participate."
The plan would put Europeans still further ahead of Americans in terms of climate policy. U.S. political parties remain bitterly divided over what to do. Republican-allied U.S. President Donald Trump has announced the United States will withdraw from the Paris accord. Democrats want their own Green New Deal: proposed U.S. legislation to tackle climate change and economic inequality.
Meantime, Climate Mayors, a coalition of U.S. mayors from 407 cities that represents 70 million Americans, has pledged to comply with the Paris agreement no matter what. It and other pro-climate action coalitions represent 65% of the nation's 329 million population and 68% of its US$21.5 trillion economy, according to America’s Pledge Initiative, led by California Gov. Jerry Brown and billionaire philanthropist Michael Bloomberg, a U.N. special envoy for climate action.
Mariana Mazzucato, an economist, author and professor at University College London, said that a European plan with repurposed, coordinated financial instruments could help to stimulate growth, tackle climate change and combat rising inequality, if taken seriously.
"The opportunity is great, but so are the challenges," she wrote in a Financial Times op-ed article on Wednesday. "Critically, a green direction will mean redesigning all E.U. instruments, including those used by the European Central Bank and financial regulators, the European Investment Bank, structural funds, investment funds and funds for small and medium-sized enterprises."
50 shades of carbon
The commission plans to "mobilize" 100 billion euros to help the most vulnerable regions and economic sectors, particularly those with heavy use of coal-burning power plants. But getting all of the E.U.'s regions and industries on board will be a challenge, since the eastern half is more coal-dependent than the western half with its greener technologies.
"If this is not a Green Deal where the most vulnerable regions in Europe, coal-mining regions and others, do not see solidarity from other parts of Europe, it will not happen," said Frans Timmermans, a Dutch politician and diplomat who is the commission's executive vice president.
The commission's blueprint, consisting of the 50 specific policy measures, represents how the E.U. hopes to accomplish the Paris treaty goals to limit rising global average temperatures. Under the treaty, almost 200 nations committed to hold the increase in temperatures to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and, preferably, to 1.5 degrees C. above pre-industrial levels.
Scientists say the world is on track for 3 degrees C. of global warming, however, bringing more drought, heat waves and severe storms, and threatening low-lying nations and coastal cities with rising seas.
The European Green Deal reflects a political reality that climate concerns have risen to the top of the agenda. In May, Europe’s left-leaning Greens gained influence in European Parliament elections influenced by voters worried about the planet’s health. The Greens’ young supporters in the E.U.’s parliament also shared a pro-E.U. sentiment, sharply contrasting with far-right populists.
The Green wave built on the worldwide movement of youth climate activists. Leading up to the May elections, tens of thousands of demonstrators across Europe joined in climate strikes uniting 1.8 million young people in 125 nations, according to tallies kept by the Fridays for Future movement.
The 5o policy measures are "a broad roadmap" on "biodiversity and forests, agriculture and food, green cities and, for example, the circular economy," and seeks to transform virtually all industries, even aviation and shipping that are not included in the Paris accord, according to von der Leyen.
"Therefore, the European Green Deal is on the one hand about cutting emissions, but on the other hand it is about creating jobs and boosting innovation. I am convinced that the old growth-model that is based on fossil-fuels and pollution is out of date, and it is out of touch with our planet," she said.
"The European Green Deal is our new growth strategy — it is a strategy for growth that gives more back than it takes away. And we want to really make things different," said von der Leyen. "We want to be the frontrunners in climate friendly industries, in clean technologies, in green financing. But we also have to be sure that no one is left behind."