German Minister of Defense Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday clinched her position as the EU’s most important policymaker with a vision of how to save the Earth from a climate emergency without killing the economy.
Von der Leyen fixed climate protection as her No. 1 priority as she set out her plans to lawmakers in the European Parliament ahead of a confirmation vote, and signaled that she is prepared to get tough with trading partners like the US and China if they do not match up to Europe’s ambition.
As well as pledging to increase EU goals for reducing carbon emissions, Von der Leyen said that she would be prepared to impose a levy on imports from countries that keep polluting.
She aims to achieve zero net carbon emissions by 2050.
The 60-year-old former doctor would become the first German in more than a half-century and the first woman ever to lead the European Commission.
If she can win the backing of national governments, her plan would not only mean a fast-track green transition for European companies, but also push other countries to do more so that they can maintain access to the world’s biggest market.
“Von der Leyen’s sending a strong signal to the global climate community, especially to the US,” said Tomas Wyns, a researcher at Brussels Free University’s Institute of European Studies. “Her arguing about a carbon border tax is bold. It’s also highly important that she wants to increase the EU climate goals and enshrine climate neutrality into law.”
The current target to cut greenhouse gases by at least 40 percent from 1990 levels is not enough to put Europe in sync with the Paris agreement goal to cap global temperature increases to 2?C, or even 1.5?C, she told the European Parliament on Tuesday.
She pledged to put forward a proposal to deepen the goal to 50 percent, or even 55 percent.
Europe’s emissions are already about 25 percent lower than they were in 1990. Von der Leyen wants to accelerate the decline by extending the world’s biggest carbon market, the EU Emissions Trading System, to cover shipping emissions and aims to reduce the number of free allowances to pollute allocated to airlines.
To help complete the transition away from fossil fuels, Von der Leyen said that she wants to create a sustainable investment plan for Europe and turn parts of the European Investment Bank into a climate bank.
“It means change. All of us and every sector will have to contribute — from aviation to maritime transport to the way each and every one of us travels and lives,” she said.
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