In what was viewed as a surprise candidacy, Ursula von der Leyen, Germany’s former defense minister, was elected president of the European Commission last week. In a speech she gave just before the vote, von der Leyen laid out an unequivocal plan for EU leadership on climate change that includes:
- increasing the ambition of the EU’s NDC to a 50% (rather than the current 40%) reduction by 2030 of GHG emissions from 1990 levels.
- launching a Green Deal for Europe in her first 100 days in office that would legally bind Europe to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. It also includes a biodiversity strategy, more emissions-trading, and a tax on companies “leaking” carbon by manufacturing in less stringent locales.
- investing €1 / US$1.1 trillion over the next decade into climate projects, using the European Investment Bank for climate and clean-energy projects throughout the EU.
As we’ve blogged before, the Trump Administration’s lack of leadership on climate change has left a power vacuum that the EU and China have stepped into, in various ways. As John Kerry was quoted post COP24, “the Chinese understand what’s at stake.” The election of this EC president and her climate agenda is the boldest one to date. It’s an open question whether she can bring along coal-dependent countries like Poland and political parties like the Greens, who didn’t vote for her because she wasn’t bold enough.
Regardless of the inevitable compromises made along the way, it will be exciting to watch her lead on climate change, especially the steps that she takes during the next 100 days. As Claudia Kemfert of the German Institute for Economic Research observed, “The Green Deal is groundbreaking and will create huge economic opportunities by opening up new markets and avoiding climate damage. Europe will set standards in this way.”
Maybe the specter of so publicly losing this advantage will spur US industry to push the Trump Administration more? Or help ensure that a new resident in the White House will lead on climate change when the Paris Agreement goes into full effect in 2020?