Germany takes EU reins to steer towards green COVID-19 recovery

FILE PHOTO: The European Union and German nation flags are pictured before a debate on the consequences of the Brexit vote at the lower house of parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Germany, June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

(Reuters) - Germany will use its upcoming presidency of the European Union to steer the bloc towards a climate-friendly economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, the country’s environment minister said on Tuesday.

“We always have to keep the big picture in mind. Europe wants to become the first greenhouse gas-neutral continent by 2050. This is the most crucial thing that we can do for future generations,” Svenja Schulze said ahead of a meeting of EU environment ministers.

Germany takes over the rotating EU presidency on July 1 and will chair meetings of EU ministers until the end of the year.

The European Commission has said spending from its proposed 750 billion euro ($846.38 billion) coronavirus recovery fund must “do no harm” to the bloc’s green goals. It has earmarked funding for electric vehicles and low-carbon hydrogen fuel - areas also in line for support from Germany’s national stimulus package.

Schulze called the Commission proposal a “good basis” for the EU’s economic recovery, which she said must be “socially fair and ecologically sound”.

She said priorities during Germany’s presidency would be agreeing an EU biodiversity strategy, a law to make long-term emissions targets legally binding, and increasing the bloc’s 2030 climate target to a 50% or 55% emissions reduction against 1990 levels.

Tough talks lie ahead. Bulgaria said on Tuesday it could not achieve a higher 2030 climate goal, while Slovenia called the Commission’s biodiversity plan to protect 30% of EU land “rather impossible”.

The EU had hoped to coax China, the world’s biggest emitter, into raising its emissions-cutting ambitions at a joint summit in Leipzig in September, ahead of a crucial U.N. climate summit in November.

But with both events delayed, the EU’s immediate climate focus has shifted to rebuilding its virus-battered economy without compromising its green goals.

Reporting by Kate Abnett; editing by Barbara Lewis, Kirsten Donovan