The European Commission (EC) in a proposal for a continent-wide Climate Law wants to make a 2050 target for net zero greenhouse gas emissions binding.

“We are acting today to make the EU the world’s first climate neutral continent by 2050,” EC President Ursula von der Leyen said.

“The Climate Law is the legal translation of our political commitment, and sets us irreversibly on the path to a more sustainable future. It is the heart of the European Green Deal.”

Forcing all 27 EU member states to take the necessary measures at EU and national level to meet the net zero target will not go down well with laggards in the energy transition, in particular Poland.

The Eastern European country has a power system that is heavily dependent on coal and after the Green Deal was presented has made clear it won’t commit to net zero by 2050 unless the EU pays it a large-enough share of the cost of exiting coal.

To bring recalcitrant countries in line, the Climate Law proposal includes measures to track the progress made by member states, based on already existing mechanisms for that. Those include a governance process for national energy and climate plans, regular reports by the European Environment Agency, and the latest scientific evidence on climate change and its impacts.

Progress is slated to be reviewed every five years, in line with the global stocktake exercise under the Paris Agreement, the EU Commission said.

The Commission also said it will propose a new 2030 EU target for greenhouse gas emission reductions, which is based on a ‘comprehensive impact assessment.’

When Von der Leyen first launched the European Green Deal, the Commission had envisaged an emission cut of 50-55% by 2030, up form a 40% reduction planned so far.

Major European energy utilities are pushing for an ambitious new target for 2030.

In a letter to Frans Timmermans, executive vice-president for the European Green Deal, the companies including Iberdrola, Enel, EDP, Orsted and Statkraft, demand a reduction of emissions by 2030 of 'at least 55%' across the EU.

The companies points out that an energy system based on renewables is the most efficient and cost competitive path to achieve decarbonisation across the economy. They also stress that embedding climate neutrality in law will create the regulatory predictability needed to steer investments.

The letter demands the cost of energy used in the EU to reflect its true costs to the climate – meaning emissions should be priced and internalised to incentives a change to climate-friendly alternatives. It also lobbies for an end of subsidies to infrastructure projects that re not compatible with climate neutrality.

Leading climate action groups were disappointed that the Commission’s proposal didn’t include a 2030 emission cut target yet, and said 2050 for net zero was far too late.

“’Net zero emissions by 2050’ for the EU equals surrender,” Greta Thunberg said in a Tweet. The Swedish climate icon had travelled to Brussels for the announcement.

Timmermans at the announcement of the Climate Law proposal said the EU wants to show it is serious about reaching net zero emissions.

“The European Climate Law is also a message to our international partners that this is the year to raise global ambition together, in the pursuit of our shared Paris Agreement goals. The Climate Law will ensure we stay focused and disciplined, remain on the right track and are accountable for delivery.”

The Commission said it has started to work on the publication of “the inception impact assessments on the future Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism”, which would be the world’s first carbon border tax on emission-heavy imports.

Such a measure has the potential to trigger another wave of trade wars, if countries like the US were to conclude that it represents an illegal non-tariff trade barrier and that they are being treated unfairly.