BRUSSELS: A day after the EU’s new chief unveiled her master plan for climate neutrality, a big question mark remained on Thursday about the ability to secure a deal for the bloc to become carbon neutral by 2050 because three eastern state members remain reluctant.

As heads of states and governments gathered in Brussels for a two-day summit, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic remain unconvinced. Their support is needed for an agreement to win approval.

Making the blocs economy carbon neutral by 2050 has been a hot topic on the European agenda for months, but the proposal failed to get approval at a summit last June and was relegated to a non-binding footnote in the final statement of that summit.

Ursula von der Leyen has since been appointed as the new chief of the EU Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, and has made the fight against climate change her top priority. Another failure this week to get support from all members would be seen as an ill-fated start for her five-year tenure.

In March we were only two countries in support, then it was eight, and progressively we convinced more people,” French President Emmanuel Macron said upon arrival at the summit. This afternoon, around the table, maybe there will be one or two members still missing. But we will do everything to convince our partners that the transition is indispensable.

A major problem for the three poorer coal-dependent nations is the heavy costs associated with transforming their economy and energy sources. Macron acknowledged they would be the hardest hit and would need financial help.

To get the support of all EU members, von der Leyen on Wednesday unveiled a new European Green Deal she called a “master plan, with an offer of some 100 billion euros ($130 billion) in public and private funds to help the fossil-fuel reliant EU nations make the transition to lower emissions.

Council President Charles Michel said he hopes an agreement will be forthcoming.

Climate neutrality is a very important goal,” he said.

In addition to the cash issue, leaders also must find a compromise on the type of energies that will be used during the transition.

Published in Dawn, December 13th, 2019