Fears of ‘Gilet Jaunes’ backlash haunt EU climate plans

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    Ghosts in yellow safety vests haunted the launch of the EU plans to slash carbon dioxide emissions to counter climate change this week.

    Fear of a populist backlash akin to France’s yellow vest or “gilet jaunes” movement has influenced how the “Fit for 55” package was designed and received.

    “What happens if one of the results of all of these measures is that normal people will have to pay more for the fuel for their cars?” asked an Italian journalist, one of several to raise the protest movement in a question. “That could be a real problem in the public opinion, and a colleague has already mentioned the gilet jaunes in France. ”

    The EU’s climate chief Frans Timmermans acknowledged the movement had been discussed. “I know the anxieties surrounding the experience of the yellow vests, I know that,” he said in response. “There is a lot of talk about that.”

    On the sidelines of Bastille Day celebrations in Paris on Wednesday the vests were out again, this time opposing mandatory vaccination for health workers, and exclusion of the unvaccinated from restaurants and cinemas.

    Awareness of the car-related origin of the protests, and of the potency of the more broadly-felt sense of economic injustice the movement tapped into, shaped the legislation proposed in Brussels this week.

    Fit for 55 outlines the concrete policies through which the EU can meet its legal commitment to cut carbon emissions by 55 per cent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, and ultimately reach carbon neutrality by 2050. The wide-ranging economic overhaul includes a phase-out of the sale of cars that use fossil fuels in favour of electric vehicles.

    The European Commission insists that renewable energy will ultimately be cheaper and that the transition will create two million jobs, but acknowledges that the transition may raise some costs for consumers along the way.

    Higher environmental standards for industry may feed into increased prices. An overhaul of fuel taxes to ensure the cleanest fuels carry the lowest levies will likely mean a few cents more per litre for those buying diesel or petrol at the pump.

    In acknowledgment of this, part of the plan is to raise revenues by taxing imports that are made with lower environmental standards elsewhere in the world, and use part of the money to create a €72 billion “social climate fund” that would be given to member states to compensate those affected by the change.

    G20 finance ministers have for the first time endorsed carbon pricing as a tool to transition to a low-carbon economy, as the EU threatens tariffs on imports from the worst polluters.

    In a statement following a meeting in Venice, Italy, this weekend, ministers agreed that the “wide set of tools” to cut emissions and create a more sustainable economy should include, “if appropriate, the use of carbon pricing mechanisms and incentives, while providing targeted support for the poorest and the most vulnerable”.

    French finance minister Bruno Le Maire told reporters after the meeting: “We have been pushing very hard to have these two words… introduced into a G20 communique.”

    Ronan Palmer, of think tank E3G, told Climate Home News the statement “raised the stakes” among G20 countries to either adopt a carbon pricing mechanism or enforce policy measures that would achieve a similar outcome of reducing sectoral emissions.

    Some form of carbon pricing is being considered in Brazil, Indonesia and Turkey.

    But Australia, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the US