The European Commission (EC) has put forward a plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the EU by 50-55% by 2030 under its new Green Deal — substantially more than the 40% reduction planned so far — and for the EU to become climate neutral by 2050.

Despite the steep step-up in ambition to address the climate crisis under new EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the Green Deal proposal was immediately criticised as not far-reaching enough, while environmental and energy groups also debated the best way to reach climate neutrality.

“Finally, the EU is waking up to rising public concern about the planetary emergency. However, the promises are too small, too few, and too far off – we’re on a runaway train to ecological and climate collapse and the Commission is gently switching gears instead of slamming on the brakes,” said Jagoda Munić, director of Friends of the Earth Europe.

“President von der Leyen is still clinging to old consumption- and growth-obsessed economics. Her Commission will still promote climate killing fossil gas, failed carbon trading, over-consumption, and potentially allow new GMOs in our food – this is no transformation.”

Net zero emissions must be reached before 2050, the NGO demanded, while criticising an up to 55% emissions cut by 2030 too low. Other environmental groups, such as Greenpeace, are calling for a 65% emissions reduction by 2030.

Germany’s powerful federation of energy and water industries, BDEW, said to put ambitious climate and energy targets into practice, the EC now urgently needs to create the right framework conditions, including enabling a rapid build-up of wind and solar energy, and a continent-wide hydrogen strategy.

While green groups such as Friends of the Earth are demanding a rapid phase out of all fossil fuels, including gas, the BDEW – in synch with the German government – stresses that the continent’s current gas infrastructure is the “necessary long-term storage system” of the energy transition.

“The usage of increasingly decarbonised gas in highly flexible plants makes the energy source a natural partner of renewable energies,” said BDEW chairwoman Kerstin Andreae.

“Natural gas in the long-term can be substituted by decarbonised and green gas through an intelligent sector coupling.”

The European Parliament is discussing the Green Deal proposals this afternoon (11 December) and a majority of MEPs is likely to back its ambition and targets.

But von der Leyen may have a harder time convincing the some of the more coal-dependent EU member states, such as Poland or the Czech Republic, during an EU summit tomorrow.

The EC as part of the Green Deal also plans to propose the world’s first carbon border tariffs to penalise carbon-intensive imports and protect European businesses subjected to EU carbon pricing – but such a measure may be difficult to implement.

The Commission plans to reach the targets stated in the Green Deal with wide-ranging legislation and programmes that will be announced at a later stage, including a new industrial strategy, emission limits for transport and a beefed-up emission trading system.

For the energy system, revised 2030 national energy and climate plans to be presented by the end of this year, will be key, the EC said.

“Renewable energy sources will have an essential role. Increasing offshore wind production will be essential, building on regional cooperation between member states,” the Commission stressed in a 20-page document on the Green Deal.

The mentioning of offshore wind in the document comes as countries around Europe’s Northern Seas are already striving for an increased cross-border cooperation in wind at sea and discuss meshed grids in the North and Baltic Seas, while Danish utility Orsted has come up with a proposal to link offshore wind projects in Denmark, Germany, Sweden and Poland via the island of Bornholm as offshore wind hub.