European Commission unveils a broad climate package that aims to meet a more ambitious greenhouse gas emission cut goal to make Europe the "first climate-neutral continent".

European Commission proposes a 100 percent cut in CO2 emissions by 2035, which would make it impossible to sell new fossil-fuel-powered vehicles in the 27-country bloc.
European Commission proposes a 100 percent cut in CO2 emissions by 2035, which would make it impossible to sell new fossil-fuel-powered vehicles in the 27-country bloc. (Reuters)

The European Commission has announced landmark proposals to achieve a zero-carbon economy, including a special levy on polluting imports, officials said.

In a more controversial move on Wednesday, the EU executive also proposed to create a special carbon market that would bring higher consumer prices on fuel for road transport or heating oil.

The bloc proposed world's first carbon border tariff, which would impose emission costs on imports of goods including steel, cement and aluminium.

The border levy would be phased in from 2026, the Commission said. 

The measure is designed to protect European industries from competitors abroad not subject to the same carbon costs.

The bloc also proposed an effective ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars as of 2035 which will accelerate a switch to zero-emission electric vehicles [EVs].

The EU executive, the European Commission, proposed a 55 percent cut in CO2 emissions from cars by 2030 versus 2021 levels, much higher than the existing target of a 37.5 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by that time.

100 percent cut by 2035

The Commission also proposed a 100 percent cut in CO2 emissions by 2035, which would make it impossible to sell new fossil-fuel-powered vehicles in the 27-country bloc.

"This is the sort of ambition we've been waiting to see from the EU, where it’s been lacking in recent years," said Helen Clarkson, Chief Executive of the Climate Group, a non-profit group that works with business and government to tackle climate crisis.

"The science tells us we need to halve emissions by 2030, so for road transport it's simple – get rid of the internal combustion engine."

In order to boost sales EV sales, Brussels also proposed legislation that would require countries to install public charging points along major roads with a maximum distance of 60 kilometres between them by 2025.

Carbon sink

The European Commission also proposed setting targets for EU member states to use carbon reservoirs such as forests and grasslands to absorb a cumulative 310 million tonnes of CO2 a year from the atmosphere by 2030.

Experts see the protection and build-up of natural "carbon sinks" as crucial to reaching "net zero" emissions by 2050, the goal scientists say the world must meet to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

The Commission proposed to implement its overall goal by setting legally binding targets for each EU member state from 2026.

"The Union target of 310 million tonnes CO2 equivalent of net removals will be distributed among the Member States in order to determine binding national targets of minimum net removals to achieve in 2030," according to the document.

EU forests, grasslands, croplands and wetlands altogether currently remove a net 268 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) from the atmosphere, according to the Commission. 

That total factors in the amount of CO2 released when trees were cut down or wildlands burned.

By comparison, the EU emitted a total of roughly 4 billion tonnes of CO2e in that year, from polluters in all sectors of its economy, including energy, transport and manufacturing.

The policy is one of a raft of proposals released on Wednesday, which EU member states will wrangle over in coming months, in a bid to realise the bloc's promise to slash its net emissions by 55 percent from 1990 levels by 2030, on the way to "net zero".

The carbon sink policy is in line with a draft seen by Reuters news agency last week.

Carbon-absorbing forests, wetlands and grasslands, known in climate jargon as "natural solutions", also form the basis of a growing carbon offset market, in which companies and individuals can buy certificates to balance out polluting activities elsewhere. 

Aviation industry hit

Airlines will lose a tax exemption for aviation fuel and must increase the use of bio-based alternatives while paying more for emissions under the new proposals.

Taking aim at a sector deemed responsible globally for up to 3 percent of planet-warming emissions, the European Commission said aviation must do more to contribute to the EU's goal to cut economy-wide net emissions by 55 percent by 2030, from 1990 levels.

Proposals issued after intense last-minute negotiations in the bloc's executive Commission, call for a progressive introduction of taxes on fuels for flights within the 27-nation bloc, which currently escape EU-wide levies.

A separate proposal would force suppliers to blend a minimum of 2 percent of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) into their kerosene from 2025, rising to 5 percent in 2030 and 63 percent in 2050.

Parallel restrictions would limit a practice that allows airlines to fly in cheaper fuel from elsewhere for the return trip — a process known as "tanking" - meaning the new SAF quota on suppliers would more easily translate into use by airlines.

Source: Reuters