Europe unveils a landmark law on Wednesday to achieve “climate neutrality” by 2050, under the stern gaze of teenage activist Greta Thunberg who slammed it as meaningless.
The Swedish eco-warrior was in the Belgian capital for a Friday protest, but first attended a meeting of European commissioners, the top EU officials who will greenlight the draft law, that is rarely opened to outsiders.
Thunberg was also to appear before a European Parliament committee, a visit that has angered many MEPs who have been told to ban other visitors and key staff due to the coronavirus outbreak.
According to a leaked draft seen by AFP, the proposed climate text aims to enshrine into law the EU’s grand ambition of zero net carbon emissions by mid-century.
It would give the EU executive new powers to impose emission targets on member state governments, a simple measure welcomed by greens and activists.
“One of the added values is to get out of the current situation where climate objectives are taken unanimously by the European Council” which brings together heads of state and government, said French liberal MEP Pascal Canfin.
– A rocky road to neutrality –
But handing more power to the commission, the EU’s executive arm, faces almost certain opposition from the national governments and the European Parliament which must ratify the proposal.
“Member states and parliament will hate it,” said Quentin Genard of climate think tank E3G in a blog post. “Even the more pro-European and pro-climate action countries want to keep oversight over climate policies.”
The goal of climate neutrality was approved by EU leaders at a rocky summit in June with coal-dependent Poland the only holdout.
It would bind the EU’s 27 member states to balance polluting emissions and removals of greenhouse gases over the next thirty years.
The commission, which proposes EU law, has hailed the draft has the cornerstone of a European Green New Deal that also envisages a major investment drive to decarbonise the European economy.
– Text ‘equals surrender’ –
But on Tuesday Thunberg said the widely leaked proposal does “absolutely nothing” for the climate emergency, in a joint letter with other young activists.
“Net zero emissions by 2050 for the EU equals surrender. It means giving up,” the letter said.
“We don’t just need goals for just 2030 or 2050. We, above all, need them for 2020 and every following month and year to come,” it said.
In addition, critics say the goal depends too deeply on technology that does not exist and creates a false hope that climate change can be fixed without fundamentally changing the economy or human behaviour.
Also angering activists, the proposal steps back from the commission’s original ambition to order countries to cut emissions by 50 percent or even 55 percent from 1990 levels by the end of this decade.
“With no 2030 climate target and no measures to end subsidies for fossil fuels, industrial farming and other destructive industries, the Commission has left a big hole in what’s meant to be the flagship of the European Green Deal,” said Sebastian Mang of Greenpeace EU.
Instead, the EU draft accepts that the existing goal to reduce pollution by at least 40 percent by 2030 will be revised by September.
Then, by 2023 and every five years thereafter, the EU will assess progress and possibly demand deeper emission cuts from governments in order to reach the 2050 goal.