Europe yesterday unveiled a landmark green growth law but failed to impress teenage activist Greta Thunberg, who dubbed it a “surrender” to the threat of climate change.
The European Commission’s draft of the law mandates EU members to achieve “climate neutrality” — net zero greenhouse emissions — by 2050.
It is seen in Brussels as the trigger to an economic revolution that will make Europe sustainable and meet the targets of the Paris climate accord.
The proposal “will be our compass for the next 30 years and it will guide us every step of the way as we build a sustainable new growth model,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told reporters.
It “will set in stone Europe’s position as a climate leader on the global stage and will inspire many of our partners.”
But 17-year-old Swedish eco-warrior Thunberg poured cold water on von der Leyen’s enthusiasm and accused Europe of making false claims of leadership on the environment.
The European Union must stop “pretending that you can be a climate leader and still go on building and subsidising new fossil fuel infrastructure,” the Swedish activist told a committee hearing at the European Parliament.
Thunberg was in the Belgian capital ahead of a climate action protest tomorrow, but had also been a guest of Von der Leyen at a meeting of top EU officials that approved the proposal.
The proposed climate text aims to enshrine into law the EU’s grand ambition of zero net carbon emissions by mid-century.
It would also give the EU executive new powers to impose emission targets on member state governments, a measure welcomed by greens and some activists.
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.
The overall goal of climate neutrality was approved by EU leaders at a rocky summit in June with coal-dependent Poland the only holdout.
It binds the EU’s 27 member states to balance polluting emissions and the removal of greenhouse gases — such as by using carbon capture technology or reforestation — within the next 30 years.
The Green Deal also envisages a major investment drive to decarbonise the European economy, but EU leaders are squabbling over the budget.
Thunberg insisted that the time to drastically cut emissions was now.
“When your house is on fire, you don’t wait a few more years to start putting it out,” said Thunberg.
“When the EU presents this climate law and net zero by 2050 you indirectly admit surrender, that you are giving up.”
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 making sacrifices like abandoning fuel-driven cars or curbing consumption.
“Europe is betting on unproven technologies and carbon sinks to suck up carbon we belched into the atmosphere, when we should be ending fossil fuels,” said Molly Welch of Friends of the Earth Europe.
Also angering activists, the proposal steps back from the commission’s ambition to order countries to cut emissions by 50% or even 55% from 1990 levels by the end of this decade.
Instead, the EU draft accepts that the existing goal to reduce pollution by at least 40% 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.
Thunberg said the announcement was not all bad. “I mean the positive thing is that they say that they are listening,” Thunberg told AFP after addressing parliament.
“And the negative thing is that they invite someone like me, a child, to tell them these things — I mean, they don’t need me to tell them these things,” she added.