The European Green Deal - a clear vision for EU climate change action?

7 minute read
07 January 2020


This article was originally published on LexisLibrary and LexisPSL.

EU has set out its plans for transforming into a sustainable economy 'by turning climate and environmental challenges into opportunities across all policy areas' in the European Green Deal. Ben Stansfield, partner at Gowling WLG, examines the key proposals of the green deal and offers his thoughts on what practitioners should keep a look out for going into the new year.

The European Commission has published 'The European Green Deal', described as 'a roadmap for making the EU's economy sustainable by turning climate and environmental challenges into opportunities across all policy areas and making the transition just and inclusive for all'. Initiatives include labels for green retail investment products and an EU green bond standard.

What is the background leading up to the European green deal being announced?

2019 has been a year like no other in recent memory for climate awareness. Across the globe, we have had:

  • Extinction Rebellion organising mass climate demonstrations
  • Greta Thunberg has become Time Magazine's Person of the Year as a result of her environmental activism
  • the 'war on plastics' has captured everyone's imagination

In the UK, Parliament declared a climate emergency and legislated for net zero carbon emissions by 2050-climate change awareness has never been so high.

With climate issues all over the news, politicians and policy-makers have tried hard to keep up with public opinion in relation to environmental issues, but have largely failed to do so - the climate debate is being run by consumers, employees, customers, shareholders and activists.

The European Green Deal was published towards the end of Conference of the Parties (COP) 25, the international climate change conference which was held in Madrid earlier this month. Although COP 25 was ultimately disappointing in terms of its outcomes, which fell short of expectations, the European Green Deal is genuinely exciting and bold.

What overarching objectives are set out?

The overarching objective of the green deal is to provide a roadmap for the transformation of the European economy and to ensure that Europe is the first continent to be carbon neutral by 2050.

The green deal intends to transform ways of living and working as well as manufacturing and other business sectors. It highlights opportunities for business-so that there is growth from the green economy-but ultimately the green deal is designed to cut emissions, restore the natural environment and to limit the warming of the planet to 1.5°C.

What are the specific proposals?

There are many specific proposals in the green deal but some of the most notable are:

  • cutting carbon emissions to zero by 2050, and by 50% (if not 55%) compared to 1990 levels. That 2030 target might not seem significant, but when you consider that currently we have only just hit a 23% reduction, the next ten years will see very dramatic and rapid change
  • the Commission is going to review a number of policies and legislation in the next 18 months to see what changes may need to be made in order to meet the green deal challenges. Most notably there are proposals to review the EU Emissions Trading Scheme to bring in new sectors-most obviously shipping - and possibly road transport and buildings
  • transport will also come under the scrutiny of the green deal and a variety of measures will be will likely be introduced to promote clean fuels, greater electrical charging infrastructure, road pricing and rail freight
  • a new chemicals strategy is expected in 2020, which will have a focus on preventing air and water pollution
  • a strategy will likely be launched in 2020 called 'farm to fork' which will improve the sustainability of the production and distribution of food
  • there will be a number of strategies and measures to increase sustainable green financing

What is the significance of the deal and what will follow from it?

The green deal is significant because of the extent of its ambition and the fact that it not only impacts every business sector, as well as individuals, but also it has been published by a body which represents hundreds of millions of people. This is not just one country making a bold stance but 26 of them (I'm excluding the UK, but also Poland, which has concerns about how it can meet the challenge).

The Commission has long since led the environmental debate globally and the green deal has a stated objective of influencing other countries to follow suit.

While the UK made waves in being the first government to declare a climate emergency and legislating for net zero, the green deal is significant because it includes a clearly thought out and comprehensive timetable as to how the Commission intends to rewrite policy and make legislation. In that sense it's ground-breaking because it's been so thoroughly thought through.

As to what will likely follow from it, I think that other governments will inevitably have to follow suit and we can expect similar announcements and programmes from governments across the globe in 2020. Climate pressures will continue in 2020, not least because COP 26 (to be held in Glasgow) is likely to be the most significant international climate change conference in history. By publishing the green deal (and following up with the various commitments), climate change awareness will continue to dominate headlines despite, for example, the US presidential election.

What are the next steps and likely timings?

The next steps are set out in an annex to the Commission's communication on the green deal. Look out for:

  • in March 2020, we can expect a proposal for a new 'climate law', which will enshrine the climate neutrality objective by 2050
  • in the summer, the Commission will publish a plan as to how it intends to hit 50-55% emissions reductions by 2030
  • various legislative proposals will follow in the coming months, and in particular new proposals for a revised EU Emissions Trading Scheme will follow in June 2021
  • in the next six, 12 and 18 months the Commission will publish numerous strategies, evaluations, action plans and proposals relating to clean energy, industrial strategy, sustainable transport, greening agriculture, preserving biodiversity, pollution control etc.

There is so much which the Commission has promised to produce in the coming months that it will be difficult to keep up with the pace of change and not miss some fundamentally important policy announcements! In the face of environmental disaster, it is warming to see bold action on the horizon.

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