The European Union's climate chief on Tuesday called on the bloc to aim for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the most ambitious path in a long-term strategy due to be announced Wednesday.
With President Donald Trump pulling the United States out of international efforts to curb global warming, Miguel Arias Canete said the EU had to lead by example at the next round of United Nations talks on climate change opening Sunday in Katowice, Poland.
The 2050 strategy to be presented by the EU executive on Wednesday sets out eight scenarios for the bloc's 28 nations to cut emissions in line with the Paris Agreement — two of which chart of a course for the Europe to become climate neutral.
"It's worth becoming the first major economy to fully decarbonize, to fully reach net-zero emissions," Europe's Climate Commissioner Arias Canete told Reuters on Tuesday. "It is absolutely possible. For sure, it will require lots of investment. It will require lots of effort, but it is doable."
Under a package of climate legislation passed since the 2015 Paris accord from energy efficiency to renewable targets and curbs on transport pollution, the EU is on track to overshoot its pledge to reduce emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2030.
The bloc currently is set to reduce emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and 60 percent by 2050.
"The message of the commission is: 'That's OK, but we need to do more,'" Arias Canete said. "The thing is, do you want to be a front mover, or a follower?"
The U.N. talks are the most important since the Paris Agreement, with delegates from 195 nations set to haggle over the details and produce a "rule book" for the pact, which the United States has announced it will quit.
By publishing its ambitious strategy Wednesday, EU officials hope to pull more weight at what are expected to be tough talks amid division among world powers.
"It will not be an easy COP but the European Union arrives with lots of credibility to these talks and we can show the rest of the world, developed and developing, that we take climate policy very seriously," Arias Canete said.
"The role of the United States is less relevant and that puts more burden on our shoulders because we have to occupy territory that in the past was occupied by Americans."
While Trump on Monday rejected projections that global warming will cause severe economic harm, a U.N. report detailing the dangers has spurred ministers from 10 EU nations to call for greenhouse gas emissions to be cut at a faster rate than planned.
Calls for more ambition, however, have divided the EU. Many nations, including economic powerhouse Germany, who are struggling to meet their targets are worried that tougher cuts would threaten industry.
EU national governments have until the end of 2019 to draft their own plans for reducing energy usage to keep in line with the bloc's goals.
To respond to the U.N. report and achieve net negative emissions, Arias Canete said the bloc's economies will have to invest more in carbon capture and storage but also encourage consumers to change their habits.