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Thunberg: When your house is on fire, you don’t wait

The European Commission unveiled draft legislation enshrining the EU goal of reaching net carbon emissions neutrality by 2050 on Wednesday, encountering pushback from all sides.

The European Commission unveiled draft legislation enshrining the EU goal of reaching net carbon emissions neutrality by 2050 on Wednesday, encountering pushback from all sides.

The climate law is a central tenet of the EU executive’s plan to overhaul the European Union’s economy, known as the European Green Deal. The aim is to massively reduce, offset, or capture emissions from carbon-intensive activities, which are key to global warming.

“I think climate neutrality is European destiny,” commission president Ursula von der Leyen told journalists in Brussels as she presented the law.

But before even being made public, the proposal came under fire from all sides.

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg—who was invited to join the commission for Wednesday’s launch—slammed the proposed law as “surrender,” in an open letter with 33 other youth activists.

“‘Net zero emissions by 2050’ for the EU equals surrender. It means giving up. We don’t just need goals for just 2030 or 2050. We, above all, need them for 2020 and every following month and year to come,” they wrote in a guest post for the CarbonBrief climate website.

“When your house is on fire, you don’t wait a few more years to start putting it out,” she later told the European Parliament, “And yet this is what the commission are proposing today.”

Environmental groups have raised similar concerns. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said the law “sets direction but lacks urgency.”

The proposed legislation focuses only on the 2050 target, while putting off efforts to tighten the bloc’s 2030 goals as is necessary to meet the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, a landmark UN deal.

New 2030 targets should be proposed by September, according to the legal text.

Critics argue that this would be too late, however, for the EU to agree on the new targets in time for a United Nations climate summit in Glasgow in November.

In a joint open letter to commission Vice President Frans Timmermans, who oversees climate issues, 12 EU environment ministers urged him to bring forward the delivery of the commission’s proposed 2030 targets to June at the latest.

Timmermans defended the commission’s timeline on Wednesday, saying it was crucial to first conduct a meticulous impact assessment: “We don’t want to make thoroughness and detail the victim of political expediency.”

Meanwhile, the Federation of German Industries (BDI) expressed concern about the proposal.

“It remains entirely unclear whether and with what instruments a further tightening of the targets can even be achieved,” said BDI deputy chief executive Holger Loesch.

Simply setting goals, without identifying tools or consequences, is mere “wishful thinking” and leads to frustration and insecurity, Loesch warned.

At present, the EU target is a 40-percent reduction of carbon emissions by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. The commission draft floats a new target of 50-55 percent, subject to a full impact assessment.

But many believe even these targets aren’t enough to meet the Paris Agreement goals. The WWF says a 65-percent emissions cut is needed by 2030, and the EU should strive for net-zero emissions by 2040, according to scientific models.

Another key element of the plan—likely to run into resistance from some EU capitals—would give the commission the power to further tighten the targets after 2030 if needed, with limited input from member states.

EU leaders—except Poland—agreed in December to the goal of achieving net climate neutrality by 2050, after the commission proposed a 100-billion-euro (111.7-billion-dollar) scheme to assist regions that will struggle most to adjust.

The EU executive also wants to use taxation to steer the green transition.

It announced on Wednesday a review of current EU laws on energy taxation, as well as an investigation into the possibility of a carbon border tax affecting imports with high carbon footprints.

The EU fears it will be undercut by countries outside the bloc with lower environmental standards. The so-called carbon border adjustment mechanism has been floated as a potential response.

“We are also ready to protect our European industry from the risk of carbon leakage,” von der Leyen said.

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