Climate change is the defining challenge of this century. European citizens are increasingly voicing their disconcert and frustration at the current pace of change. On a global scale, last September saw six to seven million people, spanning 4,500 locations in 150 countries take to the streets in one of the largest coordinated global protests. The demand for change has never been higher. With the current status quo of social and economic development destroying the ecosystems that sustain us, it is vital that policymakers take heed the people’s concerns and rigorously address the systematic challenges facing us.
European policy makers are at a tipping point. The latest report by the European Environmental Agency presents a worryingly bleak outlook for the attainment of Europe’s 2030 climate and energy targets. The newly incumbent Commission President has vowed to place climate change at the centre of her mandate.
The Green New Deal for Europe is the latest major policy initiative aimed at facing the challenge head on. The objective of the deal is ‘putting Europe on a pathway to a sustainable future while leaving no one behind’ – fitting nicely alongside with the ‘living well, within the limits of our planet’ mantra previously espoused by the bloc. What does the new deal propose?
Key initiatives include, to name a few: implementing a European ‘Climate Law’ which enshrines the carbon neutrality by 2050 objective; a revision of current environment legislation to reflect increased 2030 climate ambitions; a new strategy for smart sector integration and for sustainable and smart mobility; an extension to the EU’s Emissions Trading System to the maritime sector and reduction of the free allowance for airlines; an EU Industrial strategy for a transition to a circular economy.
On the global front, the Green New Deal hopes to lead international climate change negotiations and intensify bilateral efforts with a focused Climate and Energy Diplomacy. This includes affirming respect of the Paris Agreement in all future trade agreements; an EU-Africa Energy Plan; and the pursual of Global Green Alliances with third countries, notably in the EU’s neighbourhood.
It is worth mentioning that last month EU negotiators reached a milestone agreement on a taxonomy for ‘green investment’ – the world’s first ever regulatory benchmark for green financial products. In brief, the taxonomy determines what economic activities may be considered ‘green’ – therefore allowing a path for billions of euros to be channelled into investments to fight climate change. The taxonomy has been largely praised for its efforts in encouraging investment and stamping out ‘greenwashing’.
Responses to the Green New Deal have been a mixed bag. While supporters of the deal hail the bloc’s commitment to becoming the world’s first continent committed to carbon neutrality, critics are disenchanted by the ‘flawed policies’ which, even if achieved, still fail to meet the Paris Agreement’s objectives. While many praise the just transition mechanism purporting to support industries with billions poured into green investment and job creation, others question Von der Leyen’s lasting commitment to an economic model which prefers GDP growth over ecological limits. This notion is echoed in the EEA report, starkly stating: “Europe will not achieve its sustainability vision of ‘living well, within the limits of our planet’ simply by promoting economic growth and seeking to manage harmful side-effects with environmental and social policy tools”.
In conclusion, Europe stands at a critical juncture in 2020. With only a narrow window of opportunity to lessen the impacts of climate change and radically reduce the consumption of natural resources, it is essential that EU policymakers reflect upon European citizens frustrations and place sustainability at the forefront of governance.