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Von der Leyens climate promises run into Brussels reality

Ursula von der Leyens “Green Deal” climate pledges helped get the European Parliament to approve her as the next European Commission president. Now her program is facing a reality check.

A senior Commission official and leading members of the Parliament on Thursday spelled out just how difficult it might be to make some of those promises come true.

Von der Leyens program poses “the very clear question … what is the ambition the Union can really pursue between now and 2030?” Mauro Petriccione, the director general of the Commissions climate department, told the Parliaments environment committee in Brussels.

Von der Leyen pledged to present a European Green Deal within her first 100 days in office, something that helped recast the German conservative in a greener light.

She made a long list of promises: enshrining a target of the EU becoming climate neutral by 2050 into law; extending the blocs Emissions Trading System — which currently covers the power and industrial sectors — to also include transport and buildings; introducing a carbon border tax — a levy based on a products carbon footprint — to “ensure our companies can compete on a level playing field”; and boosting the blocs 2030 emissions reduction target to 50 percent, if not 55 percent, from the current 40 percent.

“While the Union will most likely meet its 2020 targets, the situation across member states is uneven” — Mauro Petriccione, director general of the European Commissions climate department

But some of those ideas are going to require a major recalibration of the Commissions existing goals.

Even getting the 40 percent emissions cut accepted by EU leaders in 2014 was a major slog. But 55 percent is far, far more ambitious, and distributing the required emissions cuts across EU countries and their economic sectors including transport and agriculture is expected to involve a bloody political battle.

The EU has “all the legislation we need to achieve the target that weve committed ourselves to — 40 percent of emissions by 2030,” Petriccione said.

He talked of a possible boost to 45 percent, but only if countries fully implement the blocs renewable and energy efficiency goals.

EU countries are already at risk of missing the blocs existing green goals for 2030 | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Going further runs into the problem that EU countries are already at risk of missing the blocs existing green goals for 2030, according to draft national energy and climate plans. “While the Union will most likely meet its 2020 [energy and climate] targets, the situation across member states is much more uneven than we would have wished,” Petriccione said.

Some MEPs were similarly cautious.

Peter Liese, the environment spokesperson for von der Leyens own European Peoples Party, backs her program and is in favor of pushing for a 50 percent target — but not 55 percent. “Thats so ambitious that it will really only work under a lot of pain,” he said.

Similarly, its unclear whether and how a carbon border tax would work. “We dont know that yet … and if, its with a lot of effort and risks,” Liese said.

If cars were covered by the trading system, current emissions permit prices would be too low to force carmakers to clean up their fleets | Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Thats an assessment echoed by Petriccione, who spent years as a senior official negotiating trade deals for the EU before becoming the Commissions top climate official. EU rules that impact foreigners create the danger of a backlash, shown by the ongoing fight with Malaysia and Indonesia over

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