E.U. Climate Plan Would Sweeten Deal for Coal Countries

BRUSSELS — The European Commission introduced on Wednesday its centerpiece climate strategy that, if approved, would pivot the world’s third-biggest polluter to climate-friendly economic policies and nudge coal-reliant nations with payouts worth billions of euros.

Known as the Green Deal, the plan would require many of European Union member states to radically change how they operate their economies and find new livelihoods for millions of citizens, risking a continentwide backlash akin to the “Yellow Vest” protest movement that has riled France.

The strategy paper, feverishly prepared over the past few weeks by the European Commission, the bloc’s administrative branch, has been described a top priority for the next five years and beyond.

“Our goal is to reconcile our economy with our planet, and make it work for our people,” said the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen. “The European Green Deal is as much about cutting emissions as it is about creating jobs.”

It would legally commit all European Union nations to cut emissions from 1990s levels by at least 50 percent by 2030, up from the current goal of 40 percent.

It also takes as a given that 28 countries would commit to a net-neutral emissions target by 2050 that has so far proven elusive. (Britain is set to leave the bloc on Jan. 31.) In practice, countries that refuse to commit to the 2050 neutrality target will be swayed only when financial commitments are firmed up. European officials promise that will be soon.

European nations are among history’s largest emitters of the planet-warming gases that have already raised global temperatures, and its moves to tamp down emissions are crucial to slowing global warming. But those moves could also encourage other major polluters — especially China, the world’s biggest producer of greenhouse gases — to rein in their own emissions.

Officials gathered in Madrid this week for the annual United Nations climate negotiations were looking for two concrete signals from Brussels in the coming days: a stated commitment to ratchet down to net-zero emissions by 2050 as well as more ambitious targets to reduce emissions by 2030.

The European Union and China are scheduled to hold a climate summit in Germany next fall. But Alden Meyer of the Union for Concerned Scientists said in Madrid that China was unlikely to commit to stronger targets unless Europe did so first.

The commission is expected to present draft laws in January for approval, although debate and input from the national governments of the member states are likely to water down its current proposal. Most of the policies are unlikely to take effect before 2021.

Getting European countries to ditch polluting industries will not be cheap. At the heart of the commission’s proposals is a mechanism to pay out billions of euros to nations that rely on coal — especially the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. They have long blocked the European Union from committing to a goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

At a meeting of European leaders in Brussels on Thursday, the commission and officials from countries like France will try to convince skeptical nations like Poland that the compensation fund for phasing out polluting industries will be flush and willing to dispense cash to nations making the transition.

European Union officials said that the goal was to put down a relatively limited amount of cash — 5 billion to 8 billion euros, or about $6 billion to $9 billion — and use financial instruments to help pay for projects like building wind farms, upgrading railways and teaching employees of coal plants new skills so that they could find other work. The commission hopes the financial instruments will expand the assistance to €100 billion.

They acknowledged that the cash component was small, but said they had to work within the constraints of the bloc’s budget was small.

These sweeteners will be crucial for Poland and its allies, which view the European Union climate goals as out of pace with their domestic realities. They will try to squeeze out as much as they can for their domestic economies, setting up tough negotiations over the climate plan.

The proposals are already being criticized from many quarters, underscoring how tough a sell they will be. Environmental groups like Greenpeace and many Green politicians in the European Parliament who reviewed the policies have called the proposals half-baked, rushed and unconvincing.

And it is not only smaller European countries that need persuading. Germany, Europe’s largest economy, recently passed a law to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions and meet Paris Agreement targets, but it still relies on heavily polluting industries.

For example, despite top-level political commitments, the influential Federation of German Industries warned on Tuesday that the European Union’s new emissions targets would “unsettle” businesses and consumers.

Somini Sengupta contributed reporting from Madrid.

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