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EU Commission candidate shifts on climate change, but will it be enough?

Ursula von der Leyen is not a name that slips lightly off the tongue, but you’d best learn to say it, it is odds-on that she will become the new EU Commission president, and her opinion on CO2 emissions is likely to shape policy.

Listening to her performance as she pitched members of the EU this week she is said to be uncertain of getting the votes she needs to make it to Commission President, primarily because her position on Climate Change does not go far enough to satisfy the newly elected Greens.

Leyen certainly took a stab at that, and after she had laid down her position on child poverty, youth unemployment, child care, and vocational training and taxing US multinationals, she opened up on climate change, before finishing her pitch calling for being tougher on illegal immigration into the EU.

Her first climate port of call was on the Emissions Trading System (ETS), which essentially she wants to see recalibrated and expanded to include imports. The message came loud and clear that if you create CO2 inside the EU, there is a price to be paid; and if you create CO2 in the process of making anything, which you then import to the EU, there will also be a price to be paid. And ETS needs to take in the Maritime industry, Aviation and the process of putting up new buildings. There is a lot of movement in that simple sentence, implying deadlines for electrical home heating, not gas, and CO2, the end of bunker fuel, and taxation on cheap flights.

Leyen insisted this could be done without it happening at the expense of jobs and that it must offer genuine benefits, and should be a “just” transition using the existing cohesion funds. These are funds put aside to bring poorer communities up to speed with EU law, preserved for countries where the Gross National Income is below 90% of the EU average.

She believes that doing this could help the EU move from its current aim of a 40% reduction in emissions by 2030 from 1990 levels, to perhaps reach 50%, and to become the first climate neutral bloc in the world. Leyen then went on to endorse Green finance and Green bonds.

Whether this will be enough to satisfy the doubting Greens, or whether they have enough votes to block her appointment, is yet to be seen, but she seems to have shifted towards their position and it may achieve a “better the Devil you know” effect among her opponents. Her political career to date shows that she can adapt from a “previously” held view, to one that is more popular, when the situation demands it.

The carbon border tax idea has been around for a while, and Rethink Energy would not be surprised to see it emerge, once the few recalcitrant states (Poland and the Czech Republic) who are still 98% reliant on coal, have been bribed out of coal support – so not imminently, but perhaps without 5 years. The vote to grant her nomination will be held in the next European Parliament next week along with many other appointments.4

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