BRUSSELS – The European Union will challenge the U.S. and China on climate-change targets as the fight against global warming becomes a major international issue, according to new European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
The EU is considering a target to bring emission levels down to zero by the middle of this century in its bid to lead the push to reduce greenhouse gases. Von der Leyen will pitch this plan to envoys from more than 200 nations on Monday when she travels to Madrid to take part in the opening of the United Nations climate talks. It will be her first event in the role, in which she started her five-year term on Sunday.
“The European Union wants to be the first climate-neutral continent by 2050,” she told reporters on Sunday in Brussels. “Europe is leading in this topic and we know that we have to be ambitious for our planet but also to be a front-runner.”
The climate neutrality goal is estimated to require an extra 175 billion euros ($193 billion) to 290 billion euros a year in investment for energy systems and infrastructure from 2030.
Von der Leyen set the Green Deal project as a top priority for her tenure. It would affect areas from energy production to transport and agriculture, putting Europe in sync with the objectives of the Paris Agreement to limit the rise in the global temperature.
The move would also put the EU ahead of other major emitters, including China, India and Japan, which have yet to translate their voluntary Paris pledges into binding national measures. U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the Paris agreement in 2017.
The climate policy will be part of the “geopolitical commission” concept von der Leyen intends to pursue to ensure Europe’s voice is heard on the same level as the likes of China and the U.S. The strategy will encourage other countries to follow suit by flagging options like a carbon tariff to be imposed on nations which fall behind.
Von der Leyen held several calls on her first day with a number of leaders, including Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
“The good news is that China says that they are aware of climate change,” von der Leyen said. “The fact that China is introducing an emissions trading system shows that it is also a topic that is high on the agenda in China.”
More details on the Green Deal are expected on Dec. 11, including a document outlining plans for a Just Transition Fund designed to help the countries impacted the most by the emission-reduction policy.