EU unveils ‘Fit for 55’ package; says achieving proposals are a ‘generational task’

Five new legislative proposals outlined, among them a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) to avoid so-called ‘carbon spillage’.
Janusz Wojciechowski, Frans Timmermans, Adina Valean, Ursula von der Leyen, Paolo Gentiloni, Kadri Simson, Virginijus Sinkevicius | Photo credit: European Commission Audiovisual

By Andreas Rogal

Andreas Rogal is a Brussels-based journalist and copy editor

14 Jul 2021

With the presentation of its “architecture” of 14 proposals, a mix between revisions or amendments to existing EU legislation, and some new legislative proposals, the European Commission on Wednesday unveiled its plans to achieve its 55 percent greenhouse gas emission reduction target by 2030.

Presenting the so-called ‘Fit for 55’ package, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called the 55 percent net reduction target “our generational task” and Europe’s leap from “political aspiration to legal obligation”, in order to become the first climate neutral continent in the world.

Emphasising the importance and crosscutting impact of the proposals, von der Leyen was joined on stage in the Commission press room by six members of the College of Commissioners.

Besides Executive Vice-president Frans Timmermans and Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean, von der Leyen was accompanied by the Commissioners for Economy, Paolo Gentiloni; Energy, Kadri Simson; Agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski and Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius.

While their input was brief, outlining only the most important aspects of change in their sectors, further press conferences with Timmermans and the various commissioners are expected over the coming days.

Initial reaction from EU policymakers was generally positive, with European Parliament President David Sassoli saying, "The European Parliament welcomes the Fit for 2030 package and stands ready to work on it. The EU Green Deal needs to deliver for the people [and] great attention will be paid to the social aspects of the green transition."

"The European Parliament welcomes the Fit for 2030 package and stands ready to work on it. The EU Green Deal needs to deliver for the people [and] great attention will be paid to the social aspects of the green transition" European Parliament President David Sassoli

Most importantly among the revisions is a reformed and extended EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), the main driver so far in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Europe. The scheme is set to include emissions by aviation and maritime transport, as well a separate ‘Small ETS’ for housing and private transport.

However, the latter proposal was immediately criticised by the chair of Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee (ENVI), Pascal Canfin who said, “Bad news: the European Commission proposed a new carbon market for cars and buildings. This tool works for companies, not for households facing short-term constraints: one cannot fire their kids or change their heating systems while being a tenant.”

Frans Timmermans, who will face the ENVI committee’s MEPs later today, pointed out that this ETS would be levied on energy producers, not on the consumers directly, and that the proposed Social Climate Fund would avoid energy poverty.

Five new legislative proposals were outlined, among them a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) to complement the ETS and avoid so-called “carbon spillage” through imports from non-EU countries with lower carbon prices.

German EPP Group MEP Daniel Caspary said he was "sceptical CBAM really would be compatible with WTO regulations. I would wish so, but encourage the Commission to keep alternatives such as direct aid for affected industries, at the ready. Europe must remain a champion on sticking to multinational rules. New trade conflicts would help Europe only in a very limited way.”

One goal that apparently was much disputed within the college of Commissioners had been the time frame for phasing out production of all vehicles powered by combustion engines.

In the end, the more ambitious deadline of 2035 won out. Some MEPs were quick to criticise the sweeping term ‘combustion engines’, as it would also exclude new technologies like engines running on hydrogen gas which they see as offering green potential. But during the presentation, Commissioner Adina Vălean was eager to stress the importance of hydrogen in a future green energy mix.

“Bad news: the European Commission proposed a new carbon market for cars and buildings. This tool works for companies, not for households facing short-term constraints: one cannot fire their kids or change their heating systems while being a tenant” Chair of Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee, Pascal Canfin

Timmermans and Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson made a start on Wednesday, focussing on the energy proposals, the current framework of which allows for only a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (from 1990 levels). By reforming the ETS - with caps going down faster, free allowances phased out earlier and the inclusion of aviation and maritime – a 55 percent reduction target would be possible to achieve.

Simson underlined the importance of renewed efforts in the area of energy efficiency, covered by amendments to the EU’s energy efficiency directive with, once again, the new Climate Social Fund helping to make the changes affordable.

Timmermans made it clear that he expected criticism and strong debate in the upcoming process with co-legislators in the European Parliament and Council, and he admitted that the onus was on the Commission to demonstrate that its proposals were fair, adequate and effective.

But he also warned that any denial of the validity of the goal for 2030, and any attempts to draw out the legislative process would be dangerous for the planet.

Many environmental and climate NGOs criticised the package as not being ambitious enough. Greenpeace Europe called it “unfit to contain the climate crisis”, and Friends of the Earth warned that it could put the “energy poor into jeopardy”, arguing that the Social Climate Fund was, “insufficient to deliver wide-spread renovations and renewables for energy poor households.”

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