The European Union has proposed comprehensive climate change legislation that would include a tax on aviation fuel, a carbon border tariff, emission limits for cars and more.

Flavio Lehner is a climate scientist and assistant professor of earth and atmospheric science at Cornell University. Lehner recently co-authored a report showing that climate change is to blame for last month’s stifling temperatures in the Pacific Northwest. Lehner says the EU’s proposed legislation is ambitious, but could be scaled back in the face of politics and public opinion.  

Lehner says:

“As with most negotiations, you have to go in with an ambitious proposal to have anything left afterwards, so the current news inevitably sounds better than what might be possible. I’m optimistic, though, that this will lead to some progress as there’s some evidence that peer pressure can work, even among countries.

“However, a cautious tale is coincidentally coming out of Switzerland this spring, where the public turned down 51-49 a new and more aggressive carbon dioxide law. One sore point among several was a tax on flying, which did not fare well with the youngest bloc of the voting population (age 18-32 or so). Indeed, surprisingly to many, the youngest bloc turned down the initiative more clearly (58-42) than the older people, with only the oldest bloc clearly in favor of the new law.

“More work (including from sociologists) is needed on how to convince society of the benefit of new carbon dioxide laws. The fear of ‘more costs’ still seems to prevail, which of course ignores the already large costs inflicted today by climate change on taxpayers through increasingly violent extreme events. The last few weeks across the globe were a taste of this. Without aggressive climate mitigation, these extremes will continue to increase in frequency and severity, with increasing costs for individuals and governments alike.”

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