Climate change: Ursula von der Leyen pledges EU ‘green deal’
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In a move that German media described as “a crushing defeat for von der Leyen”, MEPs on Wednesday rejected a proposal to upgrade the European Union’s carbon market. The vote came as an unexpected move that exposed divisions over the bloc’s core climate policy and could delay negotiations to finish the measure.
A committee of MEPs must now try to forge a new compromise after chaotic scenes and a blame game erupted in Parliament.
Green and Socialist MEPs rejected the proposal because of conservative groups’ amendments they said weakened it too much, while right-wing groups considered it too ambitious, especially in the light of inflationary pressures.
Parliament’s rejection meant votes on two related climate policies were postponed. They are the EU’s world-first plan to place a CO2 levy on imports of goods such as steel and cement, and a fund that would use emissions trading revenues to support low-income citizens.
The rare rejection could set back the timeframe for finishing the law – which the EU is racing to do this year, so it can apply in 2023.
German daily WELT called it a “revenge for a risky plan by Commission President von der Leyen”.
They added: “What remains are many losers.”
The proposal was meant to confirm parliament’s position for negotiations on a new proposed law to reform the Emissions Trading System (ETS).
The EU’s main policy tool for cutting emissions, the ETS requires power plants and industry to buy CO2 permits when they pollute.
Along with other new climate policies, the ETS upgrade would put the EU, the world’s third biggest polluter, on track to cut net planet-warming emissions by 55 percent by 2030, from 1990 levels.
Pascal Canfin, chair of parliament’s environment committee, which will redraft the proposal, said negotiators will attempt to reach a new deal by June 23.
Peter Liese, parliament’s lead negotiator, urged his colleagues to find a compromise that would win support.
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“All those that voted against today can think twice…please don’t kill the ETS,” he said.
MEPs voted on three other climate policies on Wednesday, with the outcome of those also uncertain as concerns about soaring energy costs and inflation collide with Europe’s commitments to fight global warming.
Brussels is touting the policies as a way to swap reliance on Russian fossil fuels for locally-produced green energy, eventually lowering energy prices and avoiding the spiralling costs that failing to tackle global warming would incur.
But some MEPs cite the immediate pressures of energy costs, the economic consequences of the Ukraine war, and the need to give industries more time to adapt as reasons for a slower approach.
A significant vote was on plans to impose a 100 percent cut in CO2 emissions from new cars by 2035 – effectively banning new combustion engine car sales in the EU, which MEPs approved.
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Attempts by some MEPs to weaken the target to a 90 percent CO2 cut by 2035 were rejected.
The law is not yet final. Wednesday’s vote confirms the parliament’s position for upcoming negotiations with EU countries on the final law.
The aim is to speed Europe’s shift to electric vehicles and embolden carmakers to invest heavily in electrification, aided by another EU law that will require countries to install millions of vehicle chargers.
“Purchasing and driving zero-emission cars will become cheaper for consumers,” said Jan Huitema, parliament’s lead negotiator on the policy.
Carmakers including Ford and Volvo have publicly supported the EU plan to stop combustion engine car sales by 2035, while others, including Volkswagen, aim to stop selling combustion engine cars in Europe by that date.
But emails seen by Reuters show industry groups including German auto association VDA lobbied lawmakers to reject the 2035 target, which they said penalised alternative low-carbon fuels and was too early to commit to, given the uncertain rollout of charging infrastructure.
“Our positions are transparent. It is our mission to develop the best solutions with everyone involved,” a VDA spokesperson said.
Electric cars and plug-in hybrid vehicles made up 18 percent of new passenger cars sold in the EU last year, although overall car sales dropped in the year amid semiconductor shortages, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association.
Transport produces a quarter of Europe’s planet-heating emissions, and greenhouse gases from the sector have increased in recent years, threatening efforts to avert dangerous levels of climate change.
Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg
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