EU wades into battle over its green revolution

·3-min read

The EU unveils a plan Wednesday to meet its bold green pledge of carbon neutrality by 2050, at the risk of triggering an epic political clash over electric cars and fuel prices.

The dozen draft legal texts are intended to transform the European economy from fossil fuel dependency to a world of net-zero emissions, low pollution and battery-powered transport.

Drawn up by the European Commission, the EU's executive, the plan effectively bans the sale of new petrol-driven cars from 2035, one of the boldest moves against gas-guzzlers ever, and one that has already raised concerns in Paris and Berlin.

The proposals, to be announced by the European Commission's environment supremo Vice President Frans Timmermans, will also seek to breathe new life into the EU's flawed Emissions Trading System (ETS), the world's biggest carbon market, where industry pays for the right to pollute.

Once announced, the laws will snake their way through the EU's legislative system amid high-stakes horse-trading in the European Parliament and among the bloc's 27 member states, egged on by industry lobbyists and green activists.

The jockeying has already begun, with powerful interests fighting hard to win special treatment -- or extra time -- before the constraints of a greener Europe come into force.

Environmentalists will denounce the laws as not going far enough -- with Greenpeace already decrying "a fireworks display over a rubbish dump" if they go through as proposed.

Some corporations, meanwhile, are careful to say they would welcome some of the plans.

Bernard Looney, the CEO of energy giant BP says that "changes are necessary" and that his company will do its part.

Others fear resistance from the general public, even a continent-wide replay of the "yellow vests" protests that erupted in France when the government pushed through a new fuel tax in the name of defending the environment.

The mammoth legislative push is officially known as the "Fit for 55" package, as its central aim is to align existing EU laws and targets with a deepened 55 percent net emissions reduction by 2030.

The previous objective was a cut of at least 40 percent from 1990 levels.

Another pillar will be a carbon levy that will be paid by non-European companies at the bloc's external border to ensure dirtier imports aren't allowed an unfair advantage.

The levy will be called a "carbon border adjustment mechanism" and polluting companies importing goods into the EU will have to buy carbon permits, a move likely to antagonise EU trading partners like Russia, China and India.

- Last-minute infighting -

To ease the blow, European rivals of the importers -- industries such as steel, cement, aluminium, fertilisers and electricity -- would see their existing free carbon permits phased out.

Sources reported serious infighting at the European Commission as the final touches were being put on the proposals.

Especially sensitive were measures to impose sustainable and probably more expensive fuels in public-facing sectors such as transport, heating and cooling -- as well as construction.

Another big battle will come from airlines over a measure to tax aviation fuel for intra-European flights. Tourist destinations such as Spain, Portugal and Greece will hope to defang the proposal.

The mainly eastern member states, such as Poland, which rely on coal, will resist tighter emissions reduction targets.

And environmentalists are unconvinced by plans to promote natural carbon sinks like forests and meadows, fearing an effort to conceal a lack of ambition in cutting emissions off at the source.