Europe launches 'Green Deal' as Greta Thunberg denounces climate inaction

UN chief Antonio Guterres hopes other major emitters will follow the EU's move

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen unveils the Commission's broad orientations of 'Green New Deal' plan to fight climate change before the European Parliament in Brussels on December 11, 2019.  / AFP / ARIS OIKONOMOU
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Europe on Wednesday unveiled its “Green Deal” to slash fossil fuel dependence and battle climate change, as teen activist Greta Thunberg rebuked global leaders for lack of sufficient action.

With fires, floods and droughts ruining millions of lives around the world, the EU’s new executive described the plan as a major milestone, bringing hope among campaigners that other big emitters might follow.

But the commitments by Europe and other major economies are still far below the pace of change scientists say is needed to avert disaster, stoking fury at Cop25, the UN climate negotiations in Madrid.

“I’m sure that if people heard what was going on and what was said during these meetings, they would be outraged,” Ms Thunberg told the gathering.

On Wednesday, she was named Time's Person of the Year for 2019.

“It seems to have turned into some kind of opportunity for countries to negotiate loopholes and to avoid raising their ambition,” Ms Thunberg said, accusing politicians of “clever accounting” and “creative PR”.

Hours later, police removed more than 100 mostly young protesters, some of whom were crying and angrily demanding “climate justice” outside the usually calm annual two-week climate talks.

“It’s a terrible signal to the world,” said Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, who left the venue to support the protesters.

"If they think they can keep us out to try to roll things through, then they are wrong."

In Brussels, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen portrayed the Green Deal, her first major proposal since taking office on December 1, as a major step towards committing the EU to carbon neutrality by 2050.

“Today is the start of a journey, but this is Europe’s man on the moon moment,” Ms von der Leyen said.

There was a lack of new commitments from other major emitters at the Madrid talks, and many questioned how quickly the bloc could embrace a low-carbon future.

Coal-reliant eastern European states want financial guarantees before backing the Green Deal, and campaigners said the initiative fell short of the massive shifts needed to save ecosystems.

“We’re on a runaway train to ecological and climate collapse, and the EU Commission is gently switching gears instead of slamming on the brakes,” said Jagoda Munic, director of Friends of the Earth Europe.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he hoped the Green Deal would encourage other big emitters such as India, China and Japan to also increase their pledges under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

“If we just go on as we are, we are doomed,” Mr Guterres said.

The European Commission promised new laws in March to make the EU climate neutral by 2050 under the Green Deal.

It also aims to tighten emissions targets, and develop a Just Transition Fund of at least €35 billion (Dh143.15bn) to support those nations most affected.

To encourage the rest of the world to follow the EU’s lead, there would also be a carbon border tax, which are essentially tariffs on imported polluting goods.

Climate change activist Greta Thunberg is seen behind young climate activists on stage at the High-Level event on Climate Emergency during the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Madrid, Spain December 11, 2019. REUTERS/Susana Vera

All member states except Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary have signed up to the climate neutral goal, which would mean not adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere beyond what can be absorbed.

“We are telling adults to act,” said Annika Kruse, 18, an activist who travelled by train from Germany to the talks in Madrid, and was among those removed by police.

There was also a call to action from outer space.

Inside the International Space Station, Italian astronaut Col Luca Parmitano joined the summit by live video.

Col Parmitano pleaded with people to “pull their heads out of the sand”.