June 19, 2019 / 5:54 PM / a month ago

Momentum builds for EU leaders to agree carbon neutral 2050 pledge at summit

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A push by Germany, France and other EU nations for the bloc to go carbon neutral by mid-century looks likely to be endorsed by EU leaders on Thursday, despite resistance from eastern European nations worried it could cost jobs.

FILE PHOTO: People attend a demonstration calling for action on climate change during the "Fridays for Future" school strike in Vienna, Austria May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo

A majority of the European Union’s 28 members have signed up to the lofty target ahead of the two-day summit of EU leaders - hoping to lead by example at this year’s U.N. climate talks in September abandoned by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Their support underscores the growing political prominence of the fight against global warming.

Months of youth climate protests and bleak warnings from U.N. scientists helped propel Green parties to their strongest showing yet in May’s European Parliament elections.

But opposition remains including from Czech Republic and Poland, whose economies rely on coal. Hesitating states want funding and other assurances that their economies will not suffer from a steeper pace of emissions reductions.

Draft conclusions for the EU leaders’ summit were amended late on Wednesday in a last ditch effort to address those concerns.

The EU document, seen by Reuters, calls for the bloc “to determine how to ensure a transition to a climate-neutral EU by 2050.”

It adds, however, that such efforts must “preserve European competitiveness, be just and socially balanced, take account of Member States’ national circumstances and respect their right to decide on their own energy mix.”

An EU diplomat from a nation reluctant to back the 2050 target said that, amid such strong momentum in favor, they did not want to be in the minority blocking it.

An EU-wide endorsement of the mid-century target, backed by the EU’s climate chief and European Parliament, would allow the bloc to tighten its nearer-term pledge under the Paris climate accord to limit warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius.

Although the EU is on track to meet its goal of cutting emissions by 40% by 2030, climate campaigners say that is not enough to help avert the most extreme weather, rising sea levels and the loss of plant and animal species.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on the bloc to aim for a 55% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

‘OVERWHELMING MAJORITY’

EU leaders meeting on Thursday could yet convince reluctant members to join the ambitious goal if enough is done to reassure them that “no one is left behind,” one EU diplomat said.

“An overwhelming majority of member states are moving in that direction,” another senior EU official said. “I hope that the trend continues and we get unanimity.”

But discussions could also be pushed back to after the U.N. climate meeting in September.

Even among nations in favor of going carbon neutral by 2050, doubts remain over how to pay for the economic shift to low-carbon technology in big employment sectors such as transport, farming and building and remain competitive.

Germany, mindful of its powerful automotive sector, had long been hesitant.

To achieve net-zero emissions, the world’s largest economic bloc would have to invest billion of euros annually in energy infrastructure, alternatives to fossil fuels and measures to absorb carbon dioxide.

It would also likely entail tightening a cap in the EU’s Emission Trading System (ETS).

Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Francesco Guarascio, Jan Strupczewski and Sabine Siebold in Brussels, Michel Rose in Paris, Belen Carreno in Madrid; Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Alexandra Hudson

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