On the campaign trail in the United States, the Democrats who wish to become the next President of the United States are competing with each other to see who can offer the most ambitious vision of a “Green New Deal” - modelled after President Roosevelt's economic New Deal of the 1930s that got America out of the Great Depression.
But they have all been beat by a conservative German politician who is about to become the next President of the European Union.
During her confirmation by the European Parliament, incoming president Ursula Von Der Leyen promised that within her first 100 days she will put in place a “European Green New Deal”. It was a promise that put her narrowly over the line for confirmation, winning the support of some Green and Socialist members of parliament.
The plan will be modelled on many of the ideas tabled in the US Congress this year by New York Congresswoman Alexandria Occasio Cortez. The Republican-controlled US Senate has already rejected the US Green New Deal. But the European Green New Deal looks certain to pass in the European Parliament.
Von Der Leyen will take office on November 1st, following a confirmation vote approving her cabinet of 27 commissioners. According to Commission sources, she is set to put her first vice-president Frans Timmermans, who himself envisioned a green new deal when he was running for the post in May’s EU election, in charge of implementing the plan. He will head up a team of commissioners that will include the climate, energy, environment and transport portfolios.
The Green New Deal will centre around a target of making the EU carbon neutral by 2050 – a proposal that still sits stalled in the European Council of 28 national governments. There will be an intermediate goal of halving emissions by 2030. She has already announced plans to establish an EU green bank that will lend exclusively to projects combating or adapting to climate change.
Making such commitments will be the easy part. Designing policies that would get the EU there without harming the economy, making the changes in a way that is politically and economically sustainable, is more difficult.
One of the plan’s proposals outlined by Von der Leyen, to introduce a border tax aimed at preventing carbon leakage from one country to another. This refers to the prospect of carbon-intensive industries leaving the EU to avoid regulation, moving to the rest of the world where they can continue to pollute. But this will encounter fierce resistance from free traders, especially within her own conservative European political family.
Von der Leyen’s conservative Christian Democratic Union party in Germany, the same party as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has been spooked by recent protests demanding climate action. They are proposing new climate change initiatives to head off the surge of voters leaving the two main right and left parties for the Greens. But although Merkel and her hand-picked successor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer have been trying to steer the party in this direction, there has been resistance.
That is because of fears that Europe will harm itself competitively by being a first-mover on climate. Many have pointed out that solving the climate crisis requires global solutions, and the EU won’t make much of an impact if it acts alone. The EU’s share of global CO2 emissions is now less than 10% annually, down from 99% 200 years ago. By 2030 this proportion is expected to fall to just 5%.
The targets on the table would decrease the EU’s annual emissions by 1.5 billion tons by 2030. But by then, the rest of the world is expected to have increased their emissions by 8.5 billion tons under current trajectories.
Proponents of being the first-mover with a European Green New Deal say that Europe can lead by example, showing the world that emissions reduction doesn’t inhibit economic growth. Indeed, they say that Europe will benefit economically by becoming the world's leader for environmental technologies, and others will quickly want to follow.
What is clear is that without a corresponding American Green New Deal, the European Green New Deal would make little headway in staving off warming temperatures. That’s why those who wish to avoid a temperature rise dangerous to humanity by 2050 say it is essential that Donald Trump, who is taking the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement, be voted out of office in November 2020.
The European policy-makers readying their green new deal also say that this will be an essential development to avoid catastrophic climate change.
Date: Aug 28, 2019