The European Green Deal

The European Green Deal is about much more than eliminating net emissions of greenhouse gases in 2050. The Commission plans to create the world’s first economy whose success is not built on an overuse of limited resources. Is Europe’s “man on the moon moment” doomed to fail?

The deal at a glimpse

Much has been heard and said about the aim to reduce net emissions of greenhouse gases to zero until 2050. But this aim is only part of a wider, even more ambitious plan of the new Commission. In the Communication on the European Green Deal the Commission sets out the roadmap for “transforming the EU’s economy for a sustainable future”. The Commission wants to design a set of “deeply transformative policies” and intends to “mainstream […] sustainability in all EU policies” to the same time.

One of the first steps of the Commission will be to propose a “Climate Law” by March 2020, which is meant to enshrine the climate neutrality goal in legislation. It also covers the general consideration of sustainability in other policy fields.

Other initiatives, legislations and actions that the Commission will focus on are:

– building and renovating in an energy and resource efficient way,

– accelerating the shift to sustainable and smart mobility,

– designing a fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly food system,

– preserving and restoring ecosystems and biodiversity,

– pursuing green finance and investment,

– greening national budgets and sending the right price signals or

– mobilising research and fostering innovation.

What it really means (or could mean)

As indicated before, the Green Deal is much more than neutralising emissions of greenhouse gases within the EU. The Green Deal roughly outlines an extensive transformation of EU’s economy, which will affect every aspect of our life if successfully implemented. While many member states have already started the transformation from nuclear or coal-based energy towards renewables, the economy in Europe is far from being a “circular” economy. A circular economy aims at eliminating waste and focuses on the continental reuse of resources. This would mean that waste-exports to countries in Southeast Asia could stop, to name one example.

Clean mobility has also been one of the key topics that have been raised during the past few years. The European car industry has only slowly accepted the challenge to build electric cars. Even though 2020 is expected to be the breakthrough year for the electric car industry in Europe, others manufacturers in the world are already much further and the next trend is already taking shape: hydrogen powered cars. There is also the problem of infrastructure and availability. While electric cars become more affordable and the range of batteries better and better, people living in rural areas still suffer from underdeveloped networks of charging stations leaving them with no choice but using older environmentally-unfriendly cars. The Commission’s approach to shift transport from road to rail is therefore one more than necessary step for reaching the 2030 and 2050 goals.

Most interesting, and probably the field with the highest impact on our everyday life (and on greenhouse gases), is the goal to “design” a new food system. The wording is key. The commission does not simply intend to promote environmentally friendly food production and to financially support farmers who produce fairly. Rather it is planned to “help consumers choose healthy and sustainable diets”. Designing a new food system therefore goes far beyond improving the quality and sustainability of what we eat and drink every day. The so-called “Farm to Fork strategy”, which will be presented in spring 2020, is part of this approach and is therefore to be watched closely. The Commission will further launch a broad stakeholder debate covering all the stages of the food chain. The outcome? Unclear. But considering that the Common Agricultural Policy costs adds up to nearly half of the EU’s budget and that the revision of it was delayed to 2022, one can expect a heavy debate between the Commission, member states and the numerous stakeholders connected to the food industry.

Despite the mentioned challenges, it is certain that the Green Deal is a major project of the new Commission and that the success of the VDL(von der Leyen)-Commission is closely connected to the success of the Green Deal. The Communication of the Green Deal lacks concrete proposals but it is clearly visible that the Green Deal will have an enormous impact on the way we think of society and economy.

Will Europe get its “man on the moon moment”?

It is hard to ignore the fact that, despite the on-going development towards a single market, the EU still consists of 27 national economies (post-Brexit). While the EU shapes many economic aspects, industrial policies are largely in the hands of the member states. Many scholars and journalists have already taken a critical look at the 2050 target and other aspects of the Green Deal. As an example, the aspect of carbon leakage is a serious concern. If production moves outside the EU due to stricter regulations, or if cheap imports from outside the EU increase, it would undermine the objective of the green deal. The Commission is fortunately aware of this. It will need however a real strategy to tackle carbon leakage.

Moreover, diplomacy will be one of the most important parts for the Green Deal to succeed. The Deal will only succeed if the world is ready to follow and take inspiration from the European solution. With the complicated negotiations at the COP25 and the unknown destiny of the Paris Agreement, the impact of the European Green Deal cannot be predicted.

The Green Deal, if implemented fully or not, will affect every policy field and ultimately every one living within the EU and beyond. Within the upcoming months we will cover many aspects of the Green Deal, closely watch the work of the Commission and suggest own ideas and vision of a green European Union.

/Oliver Pollakowsky

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