The new leadership of the European Commission has based its political and economic strategy on a series of structural reforms aimed at safeguarding the environment. Many countries, including Italy, have taken up the challenge, but what exactly is the European Green Deal?
Europe is planning its sustainable future
In 1933, US president Franklin Roosevelt announced to the nation that he was launching the New Deal, which was a series of structural reforms aimed at restoring and revitalising the US economy after the stock market crash in 1929.
Recalling this historical precedent, on 16 July 2019 Ursula von der Leyen opened her term as European Commission president by declaring that the time had come to welcome a new deal for the EU, adding the adjective "green" to emphasise that the new measures to be taken would be required to take environmental and climate sustainability into account.
The key passages of that historic speech include all the cornerstones of the Commission's future strategy. One of its main components is a European climate law with legally binding provisions aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions according to the limits set by international treaties (target to be reached by 2050); it also includes an investment plan for a sustainable Europe, a decisive call for change for citizens: "We must all do our part by adapting our way of travelling and living. We need a fair transition for all".
But what exactly is the deal based on?
The economic and environmental policies of the old continent have started to move in five main directions: efficiency, decarbonization, “circularisation”, digitalisation and reconversion. Among the many sectors involved, it was decided to focus on two strategic areas: digitalisation and sustainability.
While the concept of "digital independence" was introduced with reference to cyber security and Big Data (take the new study centre in Bologna as an example), as well as a series of other measures and investments that can be summarised in the Digital Europe 2021-2027 plan, the president also expressed her desire to make Europe the first carbon-free continent by 2050. This required a political figure with the powers to implement the new measures. It was therefore decided to supplement the old vice-presidency with an executive vice-president in charge of the European Green Deal, currently Frans Timmermans from the Netherlands.
Frans Timmermans speaks during a media conference on a new EU strategy on adaptation to climate change at EU headquarters in Brussels.
At the same time, the Sustainable Europe Investment Plan was established, a new framework programme that accompanied and complemented the nascent InvestEU fund, with the aim of unlocking private investment of up to one trillion euros over ten years for sustainable technologies and projects. One of the key measures is a change to the EIB, the European Investment Bank, which from January 2021 has stopped financing projects that use energy produced from fossil fuels. Although these measures are in some cases very complex and have various ramifications, we will try to briefly summarise the five guiding principles that guide the transition.
The first is efficiency, i.e. reducing the environmental impact of industrial processes. This process had already been set in motion, with the EU at the forefront; however, there is still much room for action. Directly linked to this is the need for decarbonization: European industry has embarked on a path to reduce CO2 emissions, focusing mainly on encouraging the use of electricity-based technologies. Where this is not feasible, no-carbon alternatives must be imagined. In this perspective, the use and diffusion of less polluting gases such as hydrogen and biogas seem to be one of the most viable options for Europe’s industrial policy. Of paramount importance, then, is circularisation, i.e. reusing and transforming as much waste material as possible, whether from industrial processes or other activities. The concept of circularity also has value in terms of energy, as it results in biofuels. In industrial transformation, digitalisation and automation will play a central role, all with a view to fair and socially sustainable transactions.
A challenging but clear and achievable programme
The objective of implementing a new energy policy that ensures full environmental, social and economic sustainability on a national level is also enshrined in Italy’s new 2030 Integrated National Energy and Climate Plan, a tool being used in the transition process towards cleaner energy. With this in mind, the CIPE (Interministerial Committee on Economic Planning) was transformed into the CIPESS (Interministerial Committee on Economic Planning and Sustainable Development) in order to coordinate the economic activities of the government and local authorities through a sustainable lens.
In the short term, we have also seen more immediate measures, such as the implementation of the Experimental Mobility Voucher Programme, which financed the purchase of sustainable vehicles, and the home renovation bonus aimed at improving the energy efficiency of domestic dwellings by combating waste. Integrating the Green New Deal into all governments is of paramount importance to avoid undoing what has been achieved so far.
The author: Sabato Angieri
Graduated in European Literature at the University "La Sapienza" of Rome, he is a freelance journalist and editorial translator, he has collaborated in several cultural and artistic projects as an author and writer. He currently collaborates with Mediaduemila, Lonely Planet as an author and with Elliot Publishing.
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