It is the great promise of the new European Commission under Ursula von der Leyen: a comprehensive environment and climate programme, a Green Deal designed to transform Europe into a climate action powerhouse. On 11 December, shortly after taking office, von der Leyen laid out the details of her vision in Brussels. The goal is to “reconcile the economy with our planet” by making industry and finance more climate-friendly and adopting the Green Deal as Europe’s “new growth strategy”.
This strategy is to guide all of the EU’s decisions in future. At the heart of the sweeping programme is the target of climate neutrality by 2050 – in other words, emitting only as much carbon dioxide as can be sucked out of the atmosphere. A climate law formalizing this objective is scheduled for March this year. The shorter-term – and therefore more concrete – ambition is to raise the EU’s 2030 reduction target from its current level of 40 percent to between 50 and 55 percent.
Over the next twelve months, all of the EU’s climate-related political instruments will be reviewed in terms of their compatibility with these goals. This will affect areas such as emissions trading, or the effort sharing rules that regulate Member States’ efforts to cut emissions in transport, buildings and agriculture. Stricter exhaust limits for passenger cars will also play an important role.
“Start of a journey”
New strategies for industry, mobility and finance are due to come into effect as early as this year, along with a Circular Economy Action Plan. In the construction sector, the commission hopes to set off a “renovation wave”, while shifting more goods transport from road to rail, and transforming energy generation – primarily by means of offshore wind farms. Subsidies for fossil energy are to be axed.
In her speech presenting the programme, von der Leyen called it Europe’s “man on the moon moment”, adding that the Commission did not yet have all the answers; rather, she claimed, it was “the start of a journey.” A sign of just how tough this journey will be came the next day, when European leaders met in Brussels to discuss the Green Deal.
After failing to do so last summer, this time round the council succeeded in agreeing on a net zero carbon target for 2050, albeit with the exception of coalreliant Poland. Further negotiations were scheduled for June to address the issue of compensation payments to alleviate the structural transformation. The Commission’s plan already provides for EUR 100 billion in funds to support the affected regions.
Implications for member states
Tougher climate targets would have serious implications for Germany too, says Andreas Kuhlmann, managing director of the German Energy Agency (Dena), who dismisses both the coal commission’s phase-out plan and the Federal Government’s Climate Package as “irrelevant and in need of reform”. Decisions at EU level frequently come up against resistance from individual Member States, partly due to the unanimity requirement. Greater support for the measures comes from the European Parliament, which favours ambitious reduction targets, and in late November symbolically declared a climate emergency.
Many environmental associations, while welcoming the Commission’s plans, believe a 65 percent reduction in emissions is needed by 2030. Friends of the Earth Germany wrote of a “moon landing without traction”, in a dig at van der Leyen’s metaphor. The head of the organisation, Olaf Bandt, argued that focusing on efficiency is not enough: equally important is curbing economic growth and consumption, besides fundamentally reforming European agricultural policy. Overall, Bandt declared the Green Deal “too weak to address the climate crisis”.