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Environment

EU trumpets Green Deal as its 'man on the moon moment'

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union’s new executive launched a Green Deal policy package to tackle climate change on Wednesday, trumpeting it as the bloc’s “man on the moon moment” - but fossil fuel-reliant eastern European states looked set to stall the initiative.

European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen’s first major proposal since taking office on Dec. 1 will commit the EU to achieving climate neutrality, emitting no more greenhouse gases beyond what can be absorbed, by 2050.

Her proposal will feed into a discussion on Thursday among leaders of member states. But Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic were already objecting to a draft summit decision on the issue, according to diplomats and documents.

“Today is the start of a journey. But this is Europe’s man on the moon moment,” von der Leyen told journalists before taking her climate pitch to the European Parliament.

“The European Green Deal is very ambitious, but it will also be very careful in assessing the impact and every single step we are taking,” she said.

Global anxiety has mounted in recent months after heat waves, droughts and wildfires that scientists say have been exacerbated by rising temperatures.

The European Commission will propose in March 2020 new laws to make the EU climate neutral by 2050. It will also propose by mid-2020 more ambitious targets to cut emissions by 2030 from the current 40% target to “at least” 50%, according to the document published on Wednesday.

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One major component is a so-called Just Transition Fund, a mechanism of at least 35 billion euros that would support “regions most exposed to decarbonization challenge”.

Von der Leyen said the Commission wants to mobilize 100 billion euros worth of investment to help the bloc’s economies pay for transition away from fossil fuels. To make the rest of the world follow suit, there would be a carbon border tax, essentially tariffs on imported polluting goods.

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Friends of the Earth Europe said the Green Deal marked a shift in tone but did not go far enough.

“Finally, the EU is waking up to rising public concern about the planetary emergency,” said Jagoda Munic, director of the environmental NGO.

“However, the promises are too small, too few, and too far off – 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.”

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The 2050 climate neutrality goal will be one of the main issues EU leaders tackle at their Thursday-Friday summit.

All members except Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary have signed up to the goal.

The holdouts have stopped the EU from leading the charge in the global fight against climate change during the past year, as the goal requires unanimous support.

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“The Czech Republic also wants to reach carbon neutrality, but we won’t make it without nuclear,” Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Twitter.

“The EU must recognize nuclear as emission-free source. On the top of that, the costs of carbon neutrality will be huge.”

Asked ahead of the summit what it would take to get the holdouts to come on board, a senior EU diplomat grinned and made the gesture for money with his fingers.

Separately, in a setback for the bloc’s climate ambitions, EU states on Wednesday rejected a deal on a set of rules governing which financial products can be called “green” and “sustainable”, an EU official said.

Additional reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

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