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Europe Targets Climate Transformation Under Historic German Boss
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Europe Targets Climate Transformation Under Historic German Boss
(Bloomberg) -- Ursula von der Leyen clinched her position as the European Union’s most important policy maker Tuesday with a vision of how to save the Earth from a climate emergency without killing the economy.Von der Leyen fixed climate protection as her no. 1 priority as she set out her plans to lawmakers in the EU Parliament ahead of a confirmation vote and signaled she’s prepared to get tough with trading partners like the U.S. and China if they don’t match up to Europe’s ambition.As well as pledging to increase EU goals for reducing carbon emissions, von der Leyen said she’d be prepared to impose a levy on imports from countries that keep polluting. She aims to achieve zero net carbon emissions by 2050.The 60-year-old former doctor will become the first German in more than half a century and the first woman ever to lead the European Commission. If she can win the backing of national governments, her plan will not only mean a fast-track green transition for European companies but also push other countries to do more so they can maintain access to the world’s biggest market.“Von der Leyen’s sending a strong signal to the global climate community, especially to the U.S.,” said Tomas Wyns, a researcher at the Institute of European Studies at the Brussels Free University. “Her arguing about a carbon border tax is bold. It’s also highly important that she wants to increase the EU climate goals and enshrine climate neutrality into law.”Narrow WinStill, after scraping over the 374-seat threshold for confirmation by just nine votes on Tuesday night, von der Leyen may face a struggle to muster support for her most far-reaching proposals. Among those who backed her appointment was Poland’s Law and Justice Party, which helped to block a commitment to the EU’s 2050 climate goal at a summit last month.The EU aims to be at the forefront in the global fight against climate change even after President Donald Trump pledged to pull the U.S. out of the 2015 deal, putting the U.S. at odds with most of the rest of the world. Without the U.S., negotiations to enact the Paris Agreement have lost some momentum.Europe has so far pursued soft diplomacy to ensure that countries make good on their climate pledges while also seeking to reference the agreement in trade deals. France and its allies have been pushing for a carbon border tax for more than a decade, but the idea has never won the unanimous backing from national governments that’s needed for it to become law.Whether von der Leyen will manage is another open question -- the outgoing commission has proposed a change of rules on how member states vote on matters related to energy taxes, but national governments will be reluctant to hand more power to Brussels.Europe’s LeadA new levy would be technically difficult to implement and would risk opening a new front in the trade conflicts that loom over the global economy, with Trump already threatening the EU with tariffs against its car industry and in retaliation for illegal state aid to Airbus.But a carbon levy could also trigger action worldwide.Take the EU move on international flights as an example: when the EU included routes to and from Europe in its carbon market, putting a price on every ton of CO2 discharged by planes, it caused an uproar and threats of retaliation from Brazil to the U.S., Russia and China. The EU backtracked, scaling down its program, but the dispute helped elevate the issue of airline emissions to the UN aviation body, which agreed to a system that makes carriers pay for pollution.A carbon border tax would also please European companies complaining that high carbon prices are already eating into their margins and competitiveness against foreign peers. The cost of emitting one metric ton of CO2 soared more than five-fold in the past two years to 29 euros after a reform helped alleviate a glut of permits to pollute. Many analysts expect further increases as the scarcity of allowances increases in the coming years.Increasing AmbitionsVon der Leyen wants to tighten the screw further. The current target to cut greenhouse gases by at least 40% from 1990 levels is not enough to put Europe in sync with the Paris Agreement remit to cap global temperature increases to 2 or even 1.5 degrees Celsius, she told the European Parliament on Tuesday. She pledged to put forward a proposal to deepen the goal to 50%, or even 55%.Europe’s emissions are already about 25% lower than they were in 1990.To help complete the transition away from fossil fuels, von der Leyen said she wants to create a sustainable investment plan for Europe and turn parts of the European Investment Bank into a climate bank. That could unlock 1 trillion euros ($1.1 trillion) of investment over the next decade, she said.“It means change,” she said. “All of us and every sector will have to contribute; from aviation to maritime transport to the way each and every one of us travels and lives.”To contact the reporter on this story: Ewa Krukowska in Brussels at ekrukowska@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Reed Landberg at landberg@bloomberg.net, Ben Sills, Richard BravoFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
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