“OUR GOAL IS TO RECONCILE the economy with our planet, to reconcile the way we produce and the way we consume with our planet and to make it work for our people.” With these words on December 11, 2019 the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, presented the Green Deal. It is the vision for a climate-neutral continent by 2050 and it is also a roadmap, with fifty actions, to reach this ambitious goal. The Commission had only been in office a few days and the Green Deal was not only its first act but also the guiding standard of its mandate. “It is on the one hand about cutting emissions, but on the other hand it is about creating jobs and boosting innovation,” explained President von der Leyen. “We do not have all the answers yet. Today is the start of a journey. But this is Europe’s ‘man on the moon’ moment.” Three months later, the world was hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, turning the agenda upside-down, accelerating the path toward an eco-sustainable Europe. It was no longer a choice, but a necessity. A pressing challenge had been transformed into a unique opportunity.
A new strategy for a just and prosperous society
The European Green Deal is the new growth strategy that aims to transform the EU into a just and prosperous society with a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy that by 2050 will no longer generate net greenhouse gas emissions and in which economic growth will be dissociated from the use of resources. It seeks to protect, conserve and improve the EU’s natural capital and protect the health and well-being of citizens from environmental risks and related consequences. At the same time, the transition must be just and inclusive. In practice, it will mobilize EUR one trillion in investments over ten years. To support the transition of countries most dependent on carbon-intensive economies, “from the coal miners of Asturias to the peat harvesters of the Irish Midlands,” a Just Transition Mechanism has been set up that will mobilize EUR 150 billion. “People are at the heart of the European Green Deal. The transformation that awaits us is unprecedented and will only succeed if it is fair and benefits everyone. We will support the people and regions required to make the greatest efforts so that no one is left behind,” explained von der Leyen to the European Parliament. “The Green Deal requires a huge investment, which we will transform into investment opportunities.
The plan presented today is intended to mobilize at least EUR 1,000 billion and will the road ahead, creating a wave of green investments.” According to the Commission’s estimates, additional investments in the order of EUR 260 billion per year will be required to achieve the 2030 climate and energy targets, an amount equivalent to 1.5 percent of Europe’s 2018 GDP. One quarter of the European budget will be linked to climate goals, and the European Investment Bank has set out to double its climate target from 25 percent to 50 percent by 2025 to become the European Climate Bank. In response to the crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic, the EU has approved a Recovery and Resilience Plan (for a total of EUR 672 billion) which requires the beneficiary states to allocate at least 37 percent of the funds to the climate transition and this investment will be funded by issuing European bonds that will promote sustainable finance. The EU is set to become the first green bond issuer in the world.
The Green Deal action plan aims to boost the efficient use of resources to move to a clean, circular economy, restore biodiversity and cut pollution. To do this, all sectors of the EU economy will have to invest in environmentally friendly technologies, support the innovation industry, introduce cleaner, cheaper and healthier forms of private and public transport, decarbonize the energy sector, ensure greater energy efficiency of buildings and collaborate with international partners to improve global environmental standards. In March 2020, the Commission proposed the first European climate law with which it intended to transform the objective set in the Green Deal into law and ensure that the European economy and society become climate-neutral by 2050. This means that all EU countries are legally obliged to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, mainly by reducing emissions, investing in green technologies and protecting the natural environment. The new EU goal for 2030 is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent compared to 1990 levels. Also in March, the Commission presented a new strategy to help Europe’s industry lead the twin transitions toward climate neutrality and digital leadership. It includes comprehensive measures to modernize and decarbonize energy-intensive industries, to support sustainable and smart mobility industries, to promote energy efficiency and to ensure a sufficient and constant supply of low-carbon energy at competitive prices. It also foresees a Clean Hydrogen Alliance, to accelerate industry decarbonization and maintain industrial leadership, followed by alliances on low-carbon industries and on industrial clouds and platforms and raw materials.
The European Commission has also adopted a new Circular Economy Action Plan, which focuses on design and production that support the circular economy, with the aim of ensuring that the resources used are kept for as long as possible in the EU economy. The measures proposed include implementing a sustainable product policy in the EU, restricting single-use products, countering premature obsolescence and banning the destruction of unsold durable goods. In July, a new global strategy was adopted to bring nature back into our lives and a “Farm to Fork” strategy, from producer to consumer, for a fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly food system. The new biodiversity strategy promotes concrete measures to put European biodiversity back on the path of recovery by 2030, for example by transforming at least 30 percent of Europe’s land surface and seas into effectively managed protected areas and returning at least 10 percent of Europe’s agricultural area with characteristic under high-diversity landscape features. It foresees the unlocking of funding of EUR 20 billion per year. The “Farm to Fork” strategy sets concrete objectives for transforming the EU food system, which include reducing by 50 percent the use and risk of pesticides, by at least 20 percent the use of fertilizers, by 50 percent the sales of antimicrobials used for farmed animals and aquaculture and finally reaching 25 percent of agricultural land under organic farming.
A new energy plan with a view to climate neutrality
In July, the Commission set out its plans for the energy system of the future and clean hydrogen. It is evident that to become climate-neutral by 2050, Europe needs to transform its energy system, which accounts for 75 percent of the its greenhouse gas emissions. The two strategies will pave the way toward a more efficient and interconnected energy sector, one driven by the twin goals of a cleaner planet and a stronger economy. The EU Strategy on Energy System Integration is upheld by three main pillars: first, a more circular energy system, with energy efficiency at its core; second, a greater direct electrification of end-use sectors; and finally (in sectors where electrification is difficult) the promotion of clean fuels, including renewable hydrogen and sustainable biofuels and biogas. In an integrated energy system, according to the EU, hydrogen can support the decarbonization of industry, transport, power generation and buildings across Europe. The EU hydrogen strategy addresses how to transform this potential through investments, regulation, market creation, research and innovation. This gradual transition will require a phased approach: from 2020 to 2024, support for the installation of at least 6 gigawatts of renewable hydrogen electrolyzers in the EU and the production of up to one million tons of renewable hydrogen; from 2025 to 2030, hydrogen needs to become an intrinsic part of the integrated energy system, with at least 40 gigawatts of renewable hydrogen electrolyzers and the production of up to ten million tons of renewable hydrogen in the EU; from 2030 to 2050, renewable hydrogen-based technologies should reach maturity and be deployed at large-scale across all hard-to-decarbonize sectors. To help deliver on this strategy, the Commission has launched the European Clean Hydrogen Alliance, which brings together industry leaders, civil society, national and regional ministers and the European Investment Bank. The Alliance will build up a portfolio of investments for scaled-up production and will support demand for clean hydrogen in the EU.
The Green Deal is not limited to direct emissions, but also concerns“indirect” ones, for example those related to construction. In October, the Commission published its Renovation Wave Strategy to improve the energy performance of buildings. The Commission aims to at least double renovation rates in the next ten years to reduce energy and resource consumption in buildings. This will improve the quality of life for people living in and using them, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, foster digitization, and improve the reuse and recycling of materials. By 2030, 35 million buildings could be renovated and up to 160,000 additional green jobs created in the construction sector. Buildings are responsible for about 40 percent of the EU’s energy consumption and 36 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from energy, but only one percent undergo energy efficient renovation every year. Given that nearly 34 million Europeans cannot afford to heat their homes adequately, public policies to promote energy efficient renovation are also a response to energy poverty, support the health and wellbeing of vulnerable people and help reduce energy bills. In November, the Commission presented the EU Methane Strategy. Methane is the second biggest contributor to climate change, after carbon dioxide. The strategy sets out measures to cut methane emissions in Europe and internationally and contains legislative and non-legislative actions in the energy, agriculture and waste sectors, which together account for around 95 percent of the methane emissions associated with human activity worldwide. The Commission will work with the EU’s international partners and with industry to achieve emission reductions along the supply chain. To help achieve the European goal of climate neutrality by 2050, the Commission presented, also in November, the EU strategy on Offshore Renewable Energy. It proposes to increase Europe’s offshore wind capacity from the currently installed 12 GW to at least 60 GW by 2030, and to 300 GW by 2050.
The Commission aims to supplement this capacity by 2050 with 40 GW of ocean energy and other emerging technologies, such as floating offshore wind and solar PV. This ambitious growth will be able to count on the vast potential offered by the European Union’s seas and on the global leadership of EU companies in the sector. It will create new opportunities for industry, generate green jobs across the continent and strengthen the EU’s global leadership in offshore energy technologies, while also ensuring the protection of the environment, biodiversity and fisheries. The Commission estimates that investments of almost EUR 800 billion will be needed between now and 2050 to achieve the proposed objectives.
More sustainable batteries toward zero pollution
Batteries that are more sustainable throughout their life cycle are also key to achieving the objectives of the Green Deal and its zero-pollution ambition. In addition to promoting competitive sustainability, they are necessary for green transport, clean energy and achieving climate neutrality by 2050. The Commission presented a proposal that addresses the social, economic and environmental issues related to all types of batteries. Batteries placed on the EU market should become sustainable, high-performing and safe along their entire life cycle, and produced with the lowest possible environmental impact, using materials obtained in full respect of human rights and social and ecological standards.
They must be long-lasting and safe and, at the end of their life, should be repurposed, remanufactured or recycled, feeding valuable materials back into the economy. From July 1, 2024, only batteries and rechargeable industrial and electric vehicles batteries for which a carbon footprint declaration has been established can be placed on the market. To improve significantly the collection and recycling of portable batteries, the current collection rate of 45 percent is expected to rise to 65 percent in 2025 and 70 percent in 2030, so that the materials of batteries we use at home are not lost for the economy. Other batteries, industrial, automotive or electric vehicle batteries, must be collected at a rate of 100 percent. All collected batteries have to be recycled and high levels of recovery obtained, in particular of valuable materials such as cobalt, lithium, nickel and lead. The Green Deal cannot be imposed from above. This is why last December the European Commission launched the European Climate Pact. This initiative invites people, communities and organizations to participate in climate action and build a greener Europe. The Climate Pact offers a space where people can connect and share knowledge, develop and implement climate solutions, thus becoming part of a growing European movement.