Yesterday — Wednesday 11 December — the European Commission revealed details of its much anticipated European Green Deal, covering everything from the food we grow to the air we breathe and vows to “leave no-one behind” in the race to achieve a climate-neutral economy by 2050. To be climate neutral, emissions must yield no net impact on the climate.
Europe is hoping to become the first climate-neutral continent and the plan is the most ambitious of any government to date. The new commission president Ursula von der Leyen, who has pegged the new climate policy as Europe’s new growth strategy, said: “This is Europe’s man on the moon moment”.
The European Green Deal is aimed at ensuring economic growth and prosperity so that European citizens and businesses can benefit the sustainable green transition, the European Commission claims.
“Our goal is to reconcile the economy with our planet” and “to make it work for our people”, von der Leyen added in a statement. “It is a strategy for growth that gives more back than it takes away”.
Although just 24 pages long, the proposal calls for the establishment of the first EU climate law — which would be irreversible — as well as national climate and energy agendas for each EU member state and strategies to decarbonize sectors and protect biodiversity.
The plan, which von der Leyen referred to as a “broad roadmap” rather than a definitive strategy, considers all sectors of the economy, including agriculture, transportation, industry, and ecology. And will allocate funding to those who may lose their job or see their communities reshaped as a result of the move toward cleaner energy — to the tune of 100 billion euros that “precisely targeted to the most vulnerable regions and sectors” during the transition.
The new proposal would require a massive policy overhaul. However, the plan lacks details on how to achieve the desired climate neutrality: what energy mix the EU will be needed? what technologies should be deployed? and which incentives should be used to reduce emissions? Indeed many Green campaigners welcome the European Green Deal but would like to see more ambitious targets, in addition to greater detail.
Greenpeace EU spokesperson Franziska Achterberg said: “Ursula von der Leyen is promising the European Green Deal will tackle the runaway climate crisis and the massive destruction of nature. But the climate targets she’s proposing would be too little too late.”
“The climate, ecological and inequality crises require a fundamental rethink of the economic system that for decades has rewarded pollution, environmental destruction and human exploitation. We urge Commission President von der Leyen and her team to put forward legislation that is truly up to the task.”
One major positive aspect of the proposal is that it addresses root problems contributing to carbon emissions and pollution. For example, rather setting recycling targets for the manufacturing industry, new standards would focus on the circular economy and phasing out plastics altogether.
In agriculture and fishing, subsidies would be used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other climate impacts, instead of increasing yields at the expense of the environment.
Poor air quality and its adverse health effects would be managed with more stringent air quality requirements and raising the bar on energy targets, i.e, generating more energy from renewable sources, even 100 per cent by 2050.
In addition, the Commission president spoke about the possibility of a carbon border tax to be placed on imports to the EU from countries without sufficient carbon targets.
Apart from outlining actions to boost the efficient use of resources, halt climate change, revert reduce biodiversity loss, and cut pollution, the plan also outlines the investments that will be needed.
The current 2030 emissions target would require an additional 260 billion euros of investment per year. To this end, the European Green Deal will rely on the European Investment Bank to devise a sustainable investment plan. Yet it remains unclear how the EU will fund the new proposals.
The Commission is sure to face challenges on Monday when the European Parliament resumes following the intense UN Climate talks in Madrid, Spain. Gaining the full backing among all EU member states may prove difficult, as many states are still concerned about carbon targets and reforms to existing subsidies.