‘We can choose a better, healthier’ way: Ursula von der Leyen’s bold mission

‘We can choose a better, healthier way’: Ursula von der Leyen’s bold mission

Ursula von der Leyen

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen unveiled a massive plan this week to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55% across the European Union by the year 2035.

It’s a bold mission, and one that’s already brought her plenty of criticism from some claiming it’s too ambitious. But she describes climate action passionately — as she has in previous speeches, including when she announced the 1 trillian euro ‘Green Deal’ in January 2020 — declaring that the mission to dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions is a “generational task”, that is about securing the wellbeing and freedom of our children. She said there is no greater or nobler agenda right now.

“We can choose a better, healthier, more prosperous way of living,” von der Leyen said in Brussels.

“Change on this scale is never easy, even when it’s necessary. For that reason there are some who will say we should go slower, we should go lower, we should do less. But when it comes to climate change doing less, or doing nothing, literally means changing everything.

“This is about securing the wellbeing not only of our generation but also of our children and of our grandchildren.”

She said Europe is the first continent to present a comprehensive architecture for meeting its climate ambitions. “We have the goal but now we present the roadmap for how we’re going to get there.”

“It will combine emission reduction with measures aimed at preserving nature, and putting jobs and social balance at the heart of the transformation.”

The plan unveiled, which would involve dozens of pieces of legislation, would put the EU well ahead of the rest of the world, including Australia. Australia is internationally renowned for being a laggard on climate action, which recently came in dead last on a United Nations assessment of how member states are addressing climate change.

Indeed, the plan could be problematic for Australia, with von der Leyen announcing that foreign importers of goods including steel, and aluminum will face higher taxes at the European border. “Carbon has to have a price everywhere,” she said.

von der Leyen said the plan will cost more than 500 billion Eurus at the European Union level. There then be significant funding from national budgets, as well as major incentives to the private sector that they believe will help.

The overarching plan includes strengthening the EU’s existing Emission Trading System, and making it applicable to aviation and maritime — on the latter, von der Leyen signaled out the cruising industry, noting that one cruise ship alone uses as much Co2 per day as 80,000 cars.

From there, von der Leyen declared the EU will build a second emission trading scheme that covers buildings and road transport.

With all this, von der Leyen also noted the social implications, and the need to ward off energy poverty. She announced a “Social Climate Fund” offering income support, investments to tackle energy poverty and help alleviate any financial pressures on small businesses and vulnerable households.

von der Leyen highlighted recent catastrophic weather events to highlight how urgent the situation is.

We must act now, while we still have policy choices.

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