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Politics and finance dog EU climate zero efforts

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By Agence France-Presse

Momentum is growing across Europe toward a mid-century target for climate neutrality that UN scientists say the world must embrace to avert catastrophe.

Experts say the EU must accelerate measures on many fronts to reach the goal of emitting no more greenhouse gases than they absorb by 2050 (AFP Photo/Sina Schuldt)

Experts say the EU must accelerate measures on many fronts to reach the goal of emitting no more greenhouse gases than they absorb by 2050 (AFP Photo/Sina Schuldt)

But experts say the 28 EU countries must accelerate measures on many fronts once they set the goal of emitting no more greenhouse gases than they absorb by 2050.

They insist that “climate neutrality” is achievable, but only provided there is political will and trillions of euros in investment for a major technological revolution.

Ursula von der Leyen put the mid-century target atop her programme to the European Parliament before it confirmed her on Tuesday as the new European Commission president.

“I want Europe to become the first climate-neutral continent in the world by 2050,” von der Leyen told the assembly, eliciting strong applause.

Last year, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that temperature rises must be capped at 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels to avoid an upsurge in killer heatwaves, droughts and superstorms.

The IPCC said by far the safest route to the cap is an immediate, drastic reduction in fossil fuel use, with emissions peaking in a few years and reaching net-zero by 2050.

Von der Leyen told MEPs that, as part of a “Green Deal for Europe” in her first 100 days in office, she would push to enshrine the 2050 target in law.

The former German defence minister effectively added urgency to achieving a target set last November by the commission, the EU’s executive arm.

But von der Leyen faces pressure for even more decisive action from the influential Greens who see her centre-right party as too close to old-guard industry.

– ‘Politically difficult’ –
Not only did the Greens fail to endorse her for president, they are pushing for a greater role in EU policymaking by highlighting her slim majority in the assembly.

Support for the 2050 goal has gained momentum since European elections in May, when climate change fears helped the Greens win many new seats.

At a summit last month, 24 EU countries endorsed the carbon neutrality goal. Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Estonia balked, but EU officials predict all will be on board by the end of the year.

Poland and Hungary highlighted concerns about how to finance the transition, complaints that will dog decision-makers as they draw up the next seven-year revolving EU budget.

Analyst Frank Rijsberman told AFP that the 2050 goal “is still politically difficult because there is a lot of investment that needs to happen.”

Von der Leyen echoed Rijsberman when she stressed the importance of private financing to make up for insufficient public funding.

She proposed creating a “sustainable” investment plan and repurposing parts of the European Investment Bank to unlock one trillion euros ($1.12 trillion) in the next decade for climate projects.

Maros Sefcovic, the outgoing commission vice president, estimated recently that the EU would need more than 500 billion euros investment annually to hit the 2050 target.

The Slovak said the barrier to investment is not the availability of funding but the “marketability and scalability” of innovations.

Rijsberman said renewable energy sources like solar and wind are now both technologically feasible and increasingly “commercially attractive”.

But the head of the Global Green Growth Institute in Seoul said the private sector is still cautious about investing in renewable energy and new technology like electric cars.

Yet, Rijsberman said, there are encouraging signs.

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