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EU launches big climate plan for 'our children and grandchildren'

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European Union policymakers on Wednesday (14 July) unveiled their most ambitious plan yet to tackle climate change, aiming to turn green goals into concrete action this decade and set an example for the world's other big economies to follow, write Kate Abnett, Foo Yun-Chee and Reuters bureaux across the EU.

The European Commission, the EU executive body, set out in painstaking detail how the bloc's 27 countries can meet their collective goal to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by 55% from 1990 levels by 2030 - a step towards "net zero" emissions by 2050. Read more.

This will mean raising the cost of emitting carbon for heating, transport and manufacturing, taxing high-carbon aviation fuel and shipping fuel that have not been taxed before, and charging importers at the border for the carbon emitted in making products such as cement, steel and aluminium abroad. It will consign the internal combustion engine to history.

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"Yes, it is hard," EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans told a news conference. "But it's also an obligation, because if we renounce our obligation to help humanity, live within planetary boundaries, we would fail, not just ourselves, but we would fail our children and our grandchildren."

The price of failure, he said, was that they would be "fighting wars over water and food".

The "Fit for 55" measures will require approval by member states and the European parliament, a process that could take two years.

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As policymakers seek to balance industrial reforms with the need to protect the economy and promote social justice, they will face intense lobbying from business, from poorer member states that want to ward off rises in the cost of living, and from the more polluting countries that face a costly transition.

Some environmental campaigners said the Commission was being too cautious. Greenpeace was scathing. "Celebrating these policies is like a high-jumper claiming a medal for running in under the bar," Greenpeace EU director Jorgo Riss said in a statement.

"This whole package is based on a target that is too low, doesn’t stand up to science, and won’t stop the destruction of our planet’s life-support systems."

But business is already worrying about its bottom line.

Peter Adrian, president of DIHK, the German association of chambers of industry and commerce, said that the high CO2 prices were "only sustainable if at the same time compensation is provided for the companies that are particularly affected".

The EU produces only 8% of global emissions, but hopes its example will elicit ambitious action from other major economies when they meet in November in Glasgow for the next milestone U.N. climate conference.

"Europe was the first continent to declare to be climate neutral in 2050, and now we are the very first ones to put a concrete roadmap on the table," said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

The package arrives days after California suffered one of the highest temperatures recorded on earth, the latest of a series of heatwaves that has hit Russia, Northern Europe and Canada.

European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans looks on during a news conference to present the EU's new climate policy proposals, in Brussels, Belgium, July 14, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen presents the EU's new climate policy proposals as EU Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni sits next to her, in Brussels, Belgium, July 14, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman

As climate change makes itself felt from the typhoon-swept tropics to the blowtorched bushlands of Australia, Brussels proposed a dozen policies to target most big sources of the fossil fuel emissions that trigger it, including power plants, factories, cars, planes and heating systems in buildings.

The EU has so far cut emissions by 24% from 1990 levels, but many of the most obvious steps, such as reducing reliance on coal to generate power, have been taken already.

The next decade will require bigger adjustments, with a long-term eye on 2050, seen by scientists as a deadline for the world to reach net zero carbon emissions or risk climate change becoming catastrophic.

The measures follow a core principle: to make polluting more expensive and green options more attractive to the EU's 25 million businesses and nearly half a billion people.

Under the proposals, tighter emission limits will make it impossible to sell petrol and diesel car sales in the EU by 2035. Read more.

To help would-be buyers who fear that affordable electric cars have too short a range, Brussels proposed that states install public charging points no more than 60 km (37 miles) apart on major roads by 2025.

An overhaul of the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS), the biggest carbon market in the world, will force factories, power plants and airlines to pay more to emit CO2. Shipowners will also be required to pay for their pollution for the first time. Read more.

A new EU carbon market will impose CO2 costs on the transport and construction sectors and on heating buildings.

Not everyone will be satisfied with a proposal to use some of the income from carbon permits to cushion the inevitable rise in low-income households' fuel bills - especially as countries will face tighter national targets to cut emissions in those sectors.

The Commission also wants to impose the world's first carbon border tariff, to ensure that foreign manufacturers do not have a competitive advantage over firms in the EU that are required to pay for the CO2 they have produced in making carbon-intensive goods such as cement or fertiliser. Read more.

Meanwhile, a tax overhaul will impose an EU-wide tax on polluting aviation fuels. Read more.

EU member states will also have to build up forests and grasslands - the reservoirs that keep carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Read more.

For some EU countries, the package is a chance to confirm the EU's global leadership in fighting climate change, and to be at the forefront of those developing the technologies needed.

But the plans have exposed familiar rifts. Poorer member states are wary of anything that will raise costs for the consumer, while regions that depend on coal-fired power plants and mines want guarantees of more support for a transformation that will cause dislocation and require mass retraining.

Environment

Fight against marine pollution: #EUBeachCleanup campaign 2021

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Officially launched on 18 August, the 2021 campaign of the #EUBeachCleanup peaked on 18 September on the World Coastal Clean Up Day. Since June, clean-up actions have been organised in both coastal and landlocked countries around the world, and will continue until the end of October.

High Representative/Vice President Josep Borrell (pictured) said: “Our actions impact our oceans. It's our choice: either we continue polluting our ocean with marine litter, or we take action and clean our seas. #EUBeachCleanup is a great individual and collective action of volunteers around the world to keep beaches clean and protect marine life. It's needed, it's urgent, everyone can contribute to restoring our planet.”

Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius, said: “Restoring biodiversity, protecting the ocean and empowering citizens are all high on the EU's agenda. The true power of #EUBeachCleanup is that it brings all these together and gains worldwide attention. It's about walking the talk and turning the European Green Deal into global blue action. Join us. Together, we can make a difference.”

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Every year, millions of tons of litter end up in the ocean with a direct and deadly effect on wildlife.  Marine pollution starts on land and is one of the main drivers of the depletion of marine biodiversity. This is why since 2017 the EU has organized the annual #EUBeachCleanup campaign - a global awareness-raising making a strong call to action every year, building momentum for the adoption of ambitious measure to protect the ocean at international level. This year's edition comes ahead of the 15th Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP15) in October and after the EU's legislation on Single-use plastics entered into force in July. More information is in this news item.

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Environment

Southern Hemisphere ozone hole surpasses size of Antarctica

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The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service is keeping a close eye on the Antarctic region to monitor the development of this year´s ozone hole over the South Pole, which has now reached an extent larger than Antarctica. After a pretty standard start, the 2021 ozone hole has considerably grown in the past week and is now larger than 75 % of ozone holes at that stage in the season since 1979.

Scientists from the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) have been closely monitoring the development of this year´s Antarctic ozone hole. On the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer (16 September) CAMS is gave a first status update on the stratospheric hole that appears every year during Austral spring, and the ozone layer that protects the Earth from the harmful properties of sunrays. CAMS is implemented by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts on behalf of the European Commission with funding from the EU.

Vincent-Henri Peuch, director of the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, said: “This year, the ozone hole developed as expected at the start of the season. It seems pretty similar to last year's, which also wasn't really exceptional in September, but then turned into one of the longest-lasting ozone holes in our data record later in the season. Now our forecasts show that this year´s hole has evolved into a rather larger than usual one. The vortex is quite stable and the stratospheric temperatures are even lower than last year. We are looking at a quite big and potentially also deep ozone hole.”

CAMS’ operational monitoring of the ozone layer is using computer modelling in combination with satellite observations in a similar way to weather forecasts in order to provide a comprehensive three-dimensional picture of the state of the ozone hole. For that, CAMS effectively combines different pieces of available information. One part of the analysis consists of observations of the total column of ozone from measurements in the ultraviolet-visible part of the solar spectrum. These observations are of very high quality but are not available in the region that is still located in the polar night. A different set of observations is included, which provide crucial information about the vertical structure of the ozone layer, but has limited horizontal coverage. By combining altogether five different sources and bringing them together using its sophisticated numerical model, CAMS can provide a detailed picture of the ozone distribution with consistent total column, profile and dynamics. More information in attached press release.

CAMS_Newsflash_Ozone Day_15092021_BEEN.docx
 
Copernicus is a component of the European Union’s space programme, with funding by the EU, and is its flagship Earth observation programme, which operates through six thematic services: Atmosphere, Marine, Land, Climate Change, Security and Emergency. It delivers freely accessible operational data and services providing users with reliable and up-to-date information related to our planet and its environment. The programme is coordinated and managed by the European Commission and implemented in partnership with the member states, the European Space Agency (ESA), the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), EU Agencies and Mercator Océan, amongst others. ECMWF operates two services from the EU’s Copernicus Earth observation programme: the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) and the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S). They also contribute to the Copernicus Emergency Management Service (CEMS), which is implemented by the EU Joint Research Council (JRC). The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) is an independent intergovernmental organisation supported by 34 states. It is both a research institute and a 24/7 operational service, producing and disseminating numerical weather predictions to its member states. This data is fully available to the national meteorological services in the member states. The supercomputer facility (and associated data archive) at ECMWF is one of the largest of its type in Europe and member states can use 25% of its capacity for their own purposes. ECMWF is expanding its location across its member states for some activities. In addition to an HQ in the UK and Computing Centre in Italy, new offices with a focus on activities conducted in partnership with the EU, such as Copernicus, will be located in Bonn, Germany from Summer 2021.

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Climate change

German election: Hunger strikers want greater action on climate change

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A group of young people are in the third week of a hunger strike in Berlin, claiming Germany's political parties aren't adequately addressing climate change ahead of this month's general election, writes Jenny Hill, Climate change.

The protestors - aged from 18 to 27 - have vowed to continue their hunger strike until the three leading candidates vying to replace Angela Merkel agree to meet them.

There's a subdued atmosphere among the little tents and hand-painted banners close to the German Chancellery in Berlin.

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The six young people who've been on hunger strike for more than a fortnight say they're feeling weak.

At 27, Jacob Heinze is the oldest of the protesters here (organisers say four other people have joined their hunger strike away from the camp). He speaks slowly, clearly struggling to concentrate, but told the BBC that, while he's afraid of the consequences of his "indefinite hunger strike", his fear of climate change is greater.

"I already told my parents and my friends there's a chance I'm not going to see them again," he said.

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"I'm doing this because our governments are failing to save the young generation from a future which is beyond imagination. Which is horrific. We're going to face war regarding resources like water, food and land and this is already a reality for many people in the world."

With less than two weeks to Germany's general election, Jacob and his fellow protesters are demanding that the three leading candidates to replace Angela Merkel as German Chancellor come and talk to them.

Hunger strikers for climate policy in Berlin, 2021

Climate change is, arguably, the biggest election issue here. German politicians have been influenced by the mass street protests of young climate change activists in recent years but this summer's deadly floods in the west of the country have also focused public concern.

Even so, say the hunger strikers, none of the main political parties - including the Green party - are proposing adequate measures to address the problem.

"None of their programmes is taking into account the actual scientific facts so far, especially not the danger of tipping points (major irreversible climatic changes) and the fact that we're very close to reaching them," says spokeswoman Hannah Luebbert.

She says the protesters want Germany to institute a so-called citizens' assembly - a group of people chosen to reflect every part of society - in order to find solutions.

"The climate crisis is also a political crisis and maybe a crisis of our democracy, because the set up with elections every four years and the great influence of lobbyists and economic interests within our parliaments often leads to the fact that economic interests are more important than our civilisation, our survival," Ms Luebbert says.

"Such citizens' assemblies aren't influenced by lobbyists and it's not politicians there who are afraid of not being re-elected, it's just people using their rationality."

A view of a climate activists camp near the Reichstag building on September 12, 2021 in Berlin, Germany.
The hunger strikers say none of the candidates are doing enough to prevent a climate catastrophe

The hunger strikers say that only one of the Chancellor candidates - Annalena Baerbock of the Green party - has responded, but that she spoke to them by telephone rather than meeting their demand for a public conversation. She's appealed to them to end their hunger strike.

But the group - which is attracting increasing publicity - have vowed to continue, though they acknowledge the distress of their families and friends.

Even so, Jacob says, his mum supports him.

"She is scared. She's really, really scared but she understands why I take these steps. She's crying every day and calls every day and asks me isn't it better to stop? And we always come to the point where we say no, it's necessary to continue," he said.

"It's really necessary to wake people up all over the world."

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