EC President-Elect Puts Climate First
Inspired partly by the Greta Thunberg phenomenon, the president-elect of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said in a speech July 16 that she will put climate at the top of her agenda.
The pledge came in the wake of the departing German defence minister's appointment to the commission's top job. She will start her presidency in November.
Von der Leyen said her "generational duty" is to deliver for the young. A "European Green Deal" was the first of six "political guidelines" the president-elect said would frame the "common work" of the next commission.
“Becoming the world’s first climate-neutral continent is the greatest challenge and opportunity of our times,” she said, promising a World Trade Organization-compliant carbon tax at the European borders and an emissions trading scheme that would cover more sectors, including transport.
“I want Europe to strive for more by being the first climate-neutral continent," von der Leyen said. "The message from Europe’s voters – and those too young to vote – is loud and clear: they want real action on climate change and they want Europe to lead the way.”
This will not be cheap, she admitted.“We will need to invest in innovation and research, redesign our economy and update our industrial policy,” she said.
However, she also added that links between parliament and the EC would strengthen, which may allow public discontent with higher energy prices to limit the goals she can achieve with her new proposed programme: "I believe we should give a stronger role to the voice of the people, the European Parliament, in initiating legislation."
Renewable energy schemes might also conflict with her desire to preserve the natural world: "Our environment, our natural jewels, our seas and oceans, must be conserved and protected ... we will cherish and preserve our rural areas and invest in [our farmers'] future," she said.
A European Green Deal will be proposed in her first 100 days. It will include the first European Climate Law, which will enshrine a 2050 climate-neutrality target in law.
“Every person and every sector will have to contribute," von der Leyen demanded. "I will propose to extend the Emissions Trading System to cover the maritime sector and reduce the free allowances allocated to airlines over time. I will also propose to extend this further to cover traffic and construction. The different systems will have to converge by 2030 if we are to be climate neutral by 2050.”
The EU will also be a world leader in circular economy and clean technologies, and “work to decarbonise energy-intensive industries," she continued.
"We will support the people and regions most affected through a new Just Transition Fund," the president-elect added. "To this end, I will propose a European Climate Pact – bringing together regions, local communities, civil society, industry and schools. Together they will design and commit to a set of pledges to bring about a change in behaviour."
Public finances alone will not be enough. "We need to tap into private investment by putting green and sustainable financing at the heart of our investment chain and financial system," she said. Meanwhile, the European Investment Bank would become Europe’s climate bank, raising the present quarter of its total financing spent on climate investment to at least half by 2025.
A planned "Sustainable Europe Investment Plan will support €1 trillion of investment over the next decade in every corner of the EU," von der Leyen pledged.