European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wants to help EU nations that still heavily rely on fossil fuels. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

EU to offer billions to help poorer EU nations cut emissions

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wants to put up 100 billion euros ($130 billion) to help EU nations that still heavily rely on fossil fuels to transition to lower emissions.

Von der Leyen, who took office this month at the helm of the European Union’s powerful executive arm, has made the fight against climate change the top priority of her five-year mandate. The first woman ever to lead the commission, she has pledged to make the EU the world’s first carbon -neutral continent by 2050 as part of the “European Green Deal” she will unveil later Wednesday.

A draft of the climate change resolutions that EU leaders will confer on Thursday, obtained by The Associated Press, says the 100 billion-euro investment will serve as “support for regions and sectors most affected by the transition.”

In a brief declaration to journalists before her speech at the European Parliament in Brussels, Von der Leyen said the money will “precisely be targeted to the most vulnerable regions and sectors.”

The commission hopes the fund will help the regions that stand to be hit the hardest financially by the transition to cleaner industries. Among them, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland, which rely heavily on coal-fired power plants, have yet to commit to the EU’s goal of having net zero emissions of CO2 by 2050.

That goal will be discussed Thursday during a meeting of EU heads of state and government in Brussels. The new climate help fund, whose full details should be unveiled in January, might help convince leaders from those three countries to join that goal.

“I want us to agree on the commitment for the EU to become climate-neutral by 2050,” said Charles Michel, president of the EU Council, in a letter to EU leaders. “This would be a major signal from the European Council that the EU will take a global leadership role on this crucial issue.”

He said the transition to a lower-emissions economy will create opportunities for economic growth, but that the EU needs to recognize that the shift could be more disruptive for certain countries.

Von der Leyen, who will present in March a European Climate Law, wants the 28-country bloc to reduce carbon emission by at least 50% by 2030 compared with 1990 levels, more than the current goal of 40%. If possible, she would like to increase the EU’s target for 2030 has high as 55% in a way that would not hurt the bloc’s economy.

Climate policy experts urged the EU not to delay its decision on tougher emissions targets for 2030 until next fall.

“All eyes are now upon the European Union and the EU Council meeting,” said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “We expect the EU’s national leaders will signal their intention to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, at the latest. But we are concerned by indications that the EU might postpone the decision to raise the ambition of its 2030 target until next October. Let us be clear, it’s essential for the EU to make such an announcement no later than the end of the first quarter of 2020.”

Meyer, who has observed climate negotiations for almost 30 years, said the joint statement reached between then-President Barack Obama and China in 2014 paved the way for the successful Paris climate agreement in 2015.

With the EU and China set to hold a summit in September, Beijing would need time to ratchet up its own climate plans before that, he said.

“The EU has to go first (on climate), because it has the responsibility and the capability,” said Meyer. “I think it will be difficult for China, India or others to enter into a discussion if the EU hasn’t put down this marker first. That’s why waiting till October is too late.”

By The Associated Press

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