BRUSSELS: EU leaders hoping for the bloc to lead the fight against global warming by agreeing on Thursday to go carbon neutral by 2050 engaged in last-ditch diplomacy to ease fears among central and eastern states that doing so could cost jobs.
Momentum has built swiftly around the goal, with a majority of the bloc’s 28 members signing up to it in recent days, hoping to lead by example at U.N. climate talks in September that U.S. President Donald Trump has abandoned.
Chancellor Angela Merkel who, mindful of Germany’s powerful automotive sector, had long been hesitant to join others in backing the 2050 target, stressed it would entail doing more right away to reduce greenhouse gases.
“I hope that the ambitious plans for climate protection become reality, which means all of us – or most of us – will have to do more,” she said.
Unanimity is needed for the bloc to endorse the goal, but the leaders of Poland and Czech Republic said they had yet to be convinced upon arrival at the summit.
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In a bid to build consensus, leaders are now focused on a softer pledge for the bloc to work on “how to” ensure the transition to an economy that absorbs as many emissions as it emits by mid-century.
The goal is widely seen, however, as a strong signal to businesses that paves the way for the EU to also raise nearer-term 2030 emission-reduction goals – for which there is far less support.
“We cannot agree, for now,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said, saying firmer promises were needed on aid in transforming Poland’s coal-fire economy.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis quipped: “Why should we decide 31 years ahead of time what will happen in 2050?”
Two diplomats from skeptical nations, however, said last-ditch changes to a summit draft text had helped to ease their concerns over a steeper pace of emissions cuts.
It calls on the European Investment Bank (EIB) to step up support for climate action and says such efforts must preserve Europe’s competitiveness and account for vast differences in the continent’s energy mix.
“We want the European Union to be a leader when it comes to climate action, leading the way for China, India and the U.S.,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said.
TIME IS RUNNING OUT
On the eve of the summit, Greenpeace activists projected the image of a bomb-shaped earth ready to explode on the facade of the building where EU leaders were meeting, warning “time was running out” to avert the worst affects of global warming.
Although the EU is on track to meet its goal of reducing emissions by 40% by 2030 from 1990 levels, climate campaigners and the EU’s climate chief has warned that this is not enough to comply with the latest U.N. warnings.
“Reaching net zero emissions by 2050 would be extremely difficult and much more costly without increasing the 2030 target,” said Wendel Trio, director of campaign group Climate Action Network Europe.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who in May launched the push along with eight other nations for the EU to agree the 2050 target, said “more and more” nations were rallying behind it.
One EU diplomat, who only recently backed the target, said it would be difficult to stand alone against the tide.
The support underscores the growing political prominence of the fight against global warming.
Months of youth climate protests and bleak warnings from U.N. scientists that more is needed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius helped propel Green parties to their strongest showing yet in May’s European Parliament elections.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on the bloc to aim for a 55% cut.
But doubts remains even among nations in favor of the 2050 goal over how to pay for the economic shift to low-carbon technology in big employment sectors such as transport, farming and building and remain competitive.
To achieve net-zero emissions, the world’s largest economic bloc would have to invest an additional 175 to 290 billion euros per year in clean energy technology, according to an EU projection on climate pathways.