An ambitious vision for a greener European Union
The EU Green Deal is the European Commission’s overarching strategy to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. It responds to one of the main priorities of European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen, who outlined the “twin green and digital transitions” as key agendas. The push for a green transition has been accelerated by the current COVID-19 situation and economic recovery plans, which have placed sustainability front and centre. “The challenge of the coronavirus pandemic added urgency to the long-standing endeavours to better use research and innovation to tackle health emergencies, climate change and digital transformation,” said Commissioner Mariya Gabriel.
The Commission presented the EU Green Deal in December 2019. It focuses on boosting the efficient use of resources by transitioning to a clean, circular economy and restoring biodiversity and reducing pollution. While working on nine different policy areas namely – biodiversity, from fark to fork, sustainable agriculture, climate action, sustainable industry, building and renovating, sustainable mobility and eliminating pollution – the plan also outlines a series of investments and financing tools to achieve a ‘just and inclusive’ transition.
Scraping beneath the sometimes fuzzy surface of those ambitions, the Deal outlines some very specific policy initiatives including:
- The Commission’s focus on overhauling relevant climate and energy legislation to align with the newly proposed target to reduce emissions by at least 55% by 2030, as compared with 1990 levels;
- The establishment of a “Fit for 55 Package” which will cover everything from renewables to energy efficiency first, buildings, as well as land use, energy taxation, effort sharing and emissions trading and a broad range of other pieces of legislation;
- Strengthening a climate and energy diplomacy with the EU’s external partners;
- The proposition of a carbon border adjustment mechanism to help motivate foreign producers and EU importers to reduce their carbon emissions;
- A series of measures on smart and sustainable transport;
- Going further with the implementation of the circular economy action plan, looking at eco-design and sustainable products;
- Following up to the EU biodiversity strategy for 2030 and Farm to Fork strategy.
Each of those initiatives, in turn, will be formalised in legislative or regulatory initiatives – a process that has already begun with the recent publication of the new EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change, the revision of the Regulation on the trans-European transport network (whose online public consultation is ongoing), measures to reduce the risk of pesticides and the revision of the Energy Taxation Directive.
Implementation of these measures at the national level will vary. While all EU leaders signed off on the Green Deal in December 2019, disagreements have arisen regarding its goals and the timeline to achieve each action. Some countries are also arguing over the Just Transition Fund (JTF), which aims to help countries that are reliant on coal become more environmentally friendly. Countries that changed their impacts prior to the establishment of the policies, such as Spain, believe that the JTF is unfair as it only benefits the countries that did not “go green earlier.”
We can expect that some Member States will implement the new rules better than others. Poland declared a while ago that climate neutrality will not be possible by 2050. Poland also criticised the goal of lowering carbon emissions, which it said will hurt its competitiveness and could lead to the unemployment of more than 40,000 Polish workers. The Polish government also recently tried to secure more funds to its coal industry, despite EU leaders agreeing on tightening their greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets by 2030.
Nevertheless, most Member States have a good record when it comes to respecting EU regulations in favour of the EU Green Deal and fighting climate change and pollution. Among them is Denmark, which not long ago was able to demonstrate that it has the most zero-emission urban buses on the roads in Europe. Denmark has also been joined by Luxembourg, Spain, Austria and Portugal, which published a joint letter calling on the European Union to clearly prioritise renewable energy. Moreover, Germany’s efforts in favour of a green transition must be highlighted, as it is the first Member State able to claim that renewables produced more power than fossil fuels in 2020.
In November this year, the UK and Italy will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow. The COP26 Summit will bring together world leaders, the science community, businesses and stakeholders with the aim of moving forward towards the goals outlined in the Paris Climate Change Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
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