Ursula von der Leyen, the new European Commission president, wants to make Europe the first carbon-neutral continent by 2050. She's promised to deliver a "European Green Deal" in the first 100 days of her tenure, which starts November 1. The neutrality target, however, is unrealistic: It's undermined by Europe's economic divergence, which the European Union can hardly be expected to eliminate by 2050.
In June, when the matter of an EU commitment to carbon neutrality first came up, the adoption of the 2050 target was blocked by four countries: Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Estonia. That's not the list of opponents one might expect based on the long-term emissions history of EU members.
If one takes 1990 as the base year, all these countries except Poland have decarbonised more than the EU as a whole, though not as much as the leader, Lithuania, where the population has shrunk by a quarter since 1990. But they did so because their inefficient Communist-era industries died. If one uses 2007 as the base year, the following decade's trend looks startlingly different.
Instead of trying to get eastern European countries to sign on to lofty EU climate goals, the bloc's leadership should admit that eliminating economic disparity between its older and newer members is an important precondition for such ambitious common-goal setting. Ignoring this disparity is hypocritical. If some poorer countries sign on to the carbon neutrality goal in the expectation that the EU will fund their efforts and then fail to receive the expected funding, the goals simply will not be reached. And von der Leyen and her team won't be around in 2050 to take responsibility.