Europe Rolls Out Ambitious Climate Change Plan, but Obstacles Loom

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BRUSSELS — In a seminal moment in the global effort to fight climate change, Europe on Wednesday challenged the rest of the world by laying out an ambitious blueprint to pivot away from fossil fuels over the next nine years, a plan that also has the potential to set off global trade disputes.

The most radical, and possibly contentious, proposal would impose tariffs on certain imports from countries with less stringent climate-protection rules. The proposals also include eliminating the sales of new gas- and diesel-powered cars in just 14 years, and raising the price of using fossil fuels.

“Our current fossil fuel economy has reached its limit,” the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said at a news conference in Brussels.

The effort, pushed by the European Commission, the E.U.’s bureaucracy, makes the 27-country bloc’s proposal the most aggressive and detailed plan in the world to reach a carbon-neutral economy by 2050, proposing big changes during this decade. To force the issue, Brussels has committed in law to reducing its emissions of greenhouse gases 55 percent by 2030 compared with 1990 levels.

The negotiations over the legislative package will be closely scrutinized well beyond Europe as a glimpse into whether and how a diverse set of countries, with democratically elected leaders from across the political spectrum, can pivot an economy away from fossil fuels — and provide cushions for those most affected.

The European proposal, which some environmental activists say still does not go far enough, raises the bar for the United States and China. President Biden has said that he wants the United States to be a leader in efforts to address climate change, but has not come up with a clear plan.

A White House official said on Wednesday afternoon that it was reviewing the European Commission’s proposals and broadly welcomed the idea of a carbon border tax.

The United States has promised to reduce emissions 40 to 43 percent by 2030. Scientists have said the world needs to halve emissions by then, which would require history’s biggest polluters, namely the United States and Europe, to make the sharpest, swiftest cuts.

Britain, which will host COP-26, the international climate talks, in Glasgow in November, has pledged a 68 percent reduction. China, currently the world’s largest emitter of carbon, has said only that it aims for emissions to peak by 2030, and it is under pressure to set a more ambitious target before the Glasgow talks.

The detailed proposals from the European Union mark only the start of what promises to be a difficult and bruising two-year negotiation among industry, 27 countries and the European Parliament on how to reach the 55 percent reduction.

But coming before the talks in Glasgow, the proposals represent an effort by the European Union to assert global leadership in what must be a multilateral effort to reduce global emissions sufficiently to avert the worst effects of climate change.

“The E.U.’s policy package for stabilizing our climate is the most comprehensive of its kind to date,” said Ottmar Edenhofer, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. “Weather extremes around the world clearly illustrate that strong action is key now if we want to limit costs and risks, and secure a safe future for all.”

At the heart of the European road map is increased prices for carbon. Nearly every sector of the economy would have to pay a price for the emissions it produces, affecting things like the cement used in construction and the fuel used by cruise ships. Proposed taxes on imports of goods made outside the European Union, in countries with less stringent climate policies, could potentially invite disputes at the World Trade Organization.

There are geopolitical implications. The cross-border carbon tax proposal could have the greatest impact on goods from Russia and Turkey, mainly iron, steel and aluminum, according to data analyzed by the Centre for European Reform. The impact on U.S. exports to Europe would be far smaller, according to the analysis.

The proposals, if passed, would see the last gasoline or diesel cars sold in the European Union by 2035; require that 38.5 percent of all energy be from renewables by 2030; increase the price charged for carbon emitted to make the use of fossil fuels increasingly expensive; and financially assist those most affected by potential price increases.

The carbon border tax could not only shake up global trade and invite disputes over protectionism, but it could also create new diplomatic fault lines ahead of the Glasgow talks.

The gathering is an important moment for big polluting nations to show what they will do to address the emissions of greenhouse gases that have set the world on a path to dangerous warming. All eyes are on targets set by the United States and China, which currently produce the largest share of greenhouse gases.

Although the European Union produces only about 8 percent…



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