Europe's most ambitious climate roadmap yet - 55% emissions cuts by 2030

Welcome to Callaway Climate Insights' special European climate plan edition. Please subscribe for Stephen Rae's extra breaking analysis.

Now the hard part begins in Brussels. After months of debate and infighting, and no less than four contentious, last-minute cabinet heads meetings in Brussels, the European Union Wednesday unveiled its roadmap for a historic 55% cut in greenhouse gas emissions in the next eight-and-a-half years.

The plan, which contains a controversial carbon border tax, the phasing out of gas-powered cars, and the expansion of Europe’s Emissions Trading System to the broad shipping and air travel industries, now must pass the European Parliament and get sign off from 27 Covid-racked countries.

Details of the package, from Dublin correspondent Daniel Byrne, are set out below.

Plus, in a special breaking news analysis for Callaway Climate Insights subscribers only, Europe Bureau Chief Stephen Rae looks at the task ahead for EU Climate Commissioner Frans Timmermans in selling the plan to skeptical member states, as well as trading partners such as the U.S. and China.

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Europe unveils roadmap to 55% emissions cut by 2030

By Daniel Byrne

(Dan Byrne is a correspondent based in Dublin, covering climate and finance matters. He is a graduate of Dublin City University. He has held communications & fundraising roles in NGOs and has contributed content for Irish media outlets RTE, AMLintelligence, and the Irish Examiner.)

DUBLIN (Callaway Climate Insights) — The world’s most ambitious zero emissions roadmap was unveiled Wednesday in Brussels by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen

The culmination of two years of work, it sets out the bloc’s plan for how 27 member states and 446 million people will align with net-zero emissions by 2050 — via ambitious 55% reductions by 2030.  

Officials acknowledged the “Fit for 55” drive is likely to meet stiff resistance in some member states and the European Parliament.

“This package is the true meaning of taking destiny in our own hands,” von der Leyen told a press conference Wednesday afternoon.  

“I am deeply convinced that this is our generational task. It must unite us and encourage us, because this is about securing the well-being of our children and grandchildren. Europe is ready to lead the way.”  

The package contains several sub-proposals aimed at reducing the public appetite for fossil fuels and incentivizing the uptake of green energy. Essentially, this means more taxes and support programs.  

Those that make use of carbon-heavy methods will face increased charges, and this covers everything from heavy industry to the use of roads and running of civilian houses.  

While the Commission acknowledged this threatens many low-income households and small businesses, it has also announced a financial support package to alleviate the dangers — dubbed the “social climate fund.” 

“Yes it’s difficult; yes, it’s hard,” said Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans. “But we have an obligation. If we were to renounce that obligation, we would not only fail ourselves, but our children and grandchildren — who in the future may be fighting wars over water and food.” 

The package of changes is still new and likely faces months of debate within the European Parliament and amongst the member states.  

Timmermans said: “The onus is on the Commission to prove that this leads to solidarity and to fairness in this transition,” he said. “If we can prove that I think the resistance will be less, if we fail to prove that, then I think the resistance will be massive.” 

Transport

Transport alone makes up 29% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the EU according to Commissioner for Transport Adina Vălean, and the bloc is eager to see this number reduced by 90% in 2050.  

Through new aviation fuel taxes, the Commission wants sustainable jet fuel use increased from 0.1% currently to 5% by 2030. “5% may seem modest,” said Vălean. “But it means multiplying the quantity used by 50 in less than 10 years.” 

Meanwhile, road transport is also being targeted, with a potential ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035.  

“20% of all greenhouse emissions still come from our roads,” Vălean explained. “Zero emissions cars and lorries are already a reality, but so is the lack of infrastructure to recharge or refuel them.” 

The bloc plans to increase charging capacity to match the real needs of consumers, she said — mentioning specifically that there needed to be one hydrogen power refueling station every 150 km along applicable networks in future.

Emissions 

For emissions, the system of tradable allowances (the ETS) is set to be extended to roads and households, vastly increasing the number of people subject to potential charges if they overstep their boundaries.  

“We are putting a price on carbon, and putting a premium on decarbonizing,” Timmermans explained at the new conference.  

The impact of this on poorer households and smaller businesses — particularly in eastern Europe where fossil fuels are still quite common — is intended to be offset by the social climate fund but Timmermans did not directly answer whether the annual €20 billion ($23.6 billion) budget for this fund was going to be enough.

Carbon leakage

The threat of “carbon leakage” will be addressed by implementing charges on imports that come from jurisdictions with different climate goals.  

The EU is essentially worried that getting strict on energy use will simply encourage companies to source their products elsewhere, but the charge will put everyone on equal footing, the Commission suggested.  

“We are introducing the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM),” said Commissioner for the Economy Paolo Gentiloni. “This will be a sort of premiere at the international level — a balance between our ambition and the necessity of global cooperation.” 

Gentiloni also hinted that the 20-year-old energy taxation directive will be reviewed so that any tax exemptions for fossil fuels will be canceled.

Fault lines

When questioned about which particular measure of the Commission’s plans the bloc would find hardest to take, Timmermans replied, “all of them.” 

“No one should be under the illusion that anything is easy here,” he warned. “We have to be honest: It’s difficult, but we need to do it.” 

Among the sectors likely to be unhappy with the Commission’s plans for carbon neutrality are road users, lower-income households, the aviation and shipping industries, and even the governments of eastern member states, who rely more on fossil fuels like coal.  

Many fear that such radical climate plans would outpace them, forcing them out of business or into debt faster than any EU support can reach them.  

While he did not elaborate on the nitty-gritty of financial support to those most affected, Timmermans did embrace the prospect of debate about the Commission’s plans, saying, “That’s how it works in Europe.” 

“We have tried to make a balanced package,” he stressed. “If you don’t like an element of it, we can talk about that. But you can’t dispute the goal of 55% because that is set in law.” 

Timmermans suggested that any member state or MEP who has concerns about an element of the package should flag them, but that they should also come with a viable alternative solution, “that can deliver the same results.” 

He also welcomed the climate social fund as a “wonderful instrument,” stressing that it would not only enable people to avoid energy poverty in future, but that it would help those already in energy poverty now.  

“Change on this scale is never easy, even when it is necessary,” said von der Leyen. “And for that reason, there are some who will say we should go lower or go slower.” 

“But doing less or doing nothing literally means changing everything.”