OPN Ursula von der Leyen-1572259755820
Incoming European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks with the media as she arrives for an EU summit in Brussels. Image Credit: AP

Ursula von der Leyen is likely to announce details of her Green Deal for Europe well before her first 100 days on the job.

The incoming European Commission president is planning to propose during the first few weeks in office a package including legislation to enshrine the goal of climate neutrality in European Union law, according to two people with knowledge of the matter. Her team is also set to lay out the rules on a special fund to aid the bloc’s countries in the unprecedented transition.

Zeroing out greenhouse gases by the middle of the century is a top priority for von der Leyen as voters across the continent are growing increasingly concerned about rising temperatures and extreme weather events. The Just Transition Fund is a key financing pillar of the Green Deal, and the climate neutrality goal estimated to require an extra $190 billion (Dh699 billion) to $321 billion a year in investment for energy systems and infrastructure from 2030.

Committing to climate neutrality would put the EU in sync with the objectives of the Paris Agreement, under which nations across the globe made voluntary pledges to reduce greenhouse gases blamed for the rise of temperatures. It would also ensure that Europe remains a step ahead of other major emitters, who haven’t so far translated their Paris pledges into equally ambitious binding measures at a national level.

The EU wants to lead the global fight against climate change, working with China to leave the US politically isolated on the issue after President Donald Trump turned his back on the landmark 2015 Paris deal. Under the rules of the accord, the earliest date on which his administration can formally start the one-year withdrawal process is November 4.

The 2050 target would mean a transformation of the EU economy affecting everything from transportation and agriculture to energy production and the design of cities.

The draft law to make it legally binding for Europe to become climate neutral will need backing from member states and the EU Parliament in a process that usually takes a year or more. The details of how to meet the goal and what national governments and companies will be required to do at home will follow in separate laws at a later stage.

Next EU summit

The exact timing of the first Green Deal package will depend on the date when the new commission takes office, possibly December 1. The originally planned November 1 start for von der Leyen’s team was delayed after the European Parliament rejected picks for commission jobs from France, Hungary and Romania.

The presentation of the Green Deal may come around the time of the next EU summit, which is scheduled for December 12-13.

Heads of government will try to reach a deal on endorsing climate neutrality at that meeting. Talks about the long-term climate strategy are currently taking place behind the scenes, with 25 countries in favour of net-zero emissions seeking to persuade three east European nations that oppose a quick decision.

Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic argue that such a move requires a solid financial plan and aid for the poorer member states. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said his country will need to invest €150 billion (Dh610 billion) to decarbonise electricity generation, replace the use of natural gas and shift to electric transport and the goal can be reached only with a “major contribution” from the EU.

Poland, which relies on coal for most of its electricity, is seeking guarantees that EU funds will be directed at regions and member states where emissions are the highest and challenges with access to capital are the greatest, according to Michal Kurtyka, state secretary for environment.

The Polish Economic Institute estimated that to be effective, the Just Transition Fund needs at least €10 billion to €20 billion annually in the 2021-2027 period. Under a mid-range scenario of 15 billion euros, Poland would be its largest beneficiary with €2.1 billion. Greece and France would rank next, with €1.7 billion and €1.6 billion, respectively.

The draft climate law and the transition fund will be followed by more detailed legislation on how to get to the net-zero emission future. Von der Leyen also pledged to deepen the existing 2030 carbon-reduction target from at least 40 to 50 per cent or even 55 per cent. That would imply stricter pollution limits in the EU carbon market, which imposes CO2 caps on about 12,000 installations owned by utilities and manufacturers.

She also plans to expand the EU Emissions Trading System to cover transportation and heating and wants to tighten the pressure on airlines, which currently get most pollution permits for free. The Green Deal may also have implications for the EU trading partners as it includes plans to impose a carbon border tax to protect domestic businesses from lower-cost competitors abroad and prod the rest of the world into more ambitious climate action.

— Washington Post

Ewa Krukowska is a columnist who specialises in European affairs.