Sustainability Climate Change

Europe gets its own green new deal

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen presented the European Green Deal aiming to make the EU climate neutral by 2050

Story at a glance

  • The European Union unveiled its own version of the Green New Deal, called the European Green Deal.
  • The plan would overhaul the European economy from top to bottom, with the goal of making its 28 countries “climate neutral” by 2050.
  • But the European Green Deal is scant on details, with new European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen calling it a “broad roadmap” rather than a specific action plan.

The European Commission released a new climate change action plan that has been dubbed the European Green Deal. The plan aims to make the European Union’s 28 countries “climate neutral” by 2050, meaning their collective actions would have no net impact on the climate, Vox reports

The European Green Deal, unveiled Dec. 11 by new European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, would entail sweeping policy changes and a transformation of the European economy. 

The EU is currently third, behind China and the United States, in global greenhouse gas emissions. The new plan contains even more ambitious emissions cuts than the EU’s Paris Climate Agreement commitments. The EU’s goal for 2030 has gone from a 40 percent reduction to a 50 percent reduction, with the added goal for 2050 of eliminating 100 percent of the bloc’s net greenhouse gas emissions.

“This is Europe’s man on the moon moment,” von der Leyen said in a press conference. The deal’s proponents say that reducing the EU’s climate impact doesn’t need to come at the cost of economic growth. “The European Green Deal is our new growth strategy,” von der Leyen said. “It is a strategy for growth that gives more back than it takes away.”

History suggests this is possible: from 1990 and 2018, the EU cut emissions by 23 percent while growing its gross domestic product by 61 percent.

The proposed changes to the economy would cut across all sectors, from agriculture to industry, with a particular focus on helping those who might lose their jobs in the transition to a carbon neutral economy. The plan allocates 100 billion euros to provide job retraining, buyouts and investments in communities hit hard by the loss of jobs related to fossil fuels.

But the European Green Deal is light on the details of how this massive transition would actually proceed. For example, the plan doesn’t provide a detailed description of the energy sources that would power the EU to zero emissions by 2050, what technologies might help it get there or any policy mechanisms that could help incentivize climate friendly business practices. Von der Leyen acknowledged this, calling it a “broad roadmap,” rather than a step-by-step action plan.

The question of how Europe will pay for its green deal, like the U.S. Green New Deal, doesn’t currently have a satisfying answer. Supporting documents suggest that meeting its 2030 emissions target would require an extra 260 billion euros of annual investment. 

But the European Commission also touted the potential economic benefits of its Green Deal. Officials say moving away from fossil fuels could save lives and in turn increase economic productivity by reducing the 400,000 premature deaths caused by air pollution in the EU each year.

One of the European Green Deal’s more concrete recommendations is a carbon tax that would also apply to the emissions associated with imports from countries with less stringent climate policies. If this border adjustment carbon tax goes into effect it could send ripples through the global economy, impacting EU trade partners like China and the U.S. that have weaker emissions targets. But the impact of such a tax will also make it challenging to implement.

The European Green Deal’s announcement signals the bloc’s renewed commitment to fighting climate change as delegates from around the world negotiate climate policy in Madrid, Spain at the United Nations COP25 conference. The plan has been adopted by the European Commission’s college of commissioners and will now go to the European Parliament and European Council for endorsement. 

But some environmentalists feel the plan’s goals are not ambitious enough. “The climate targets [the commission is] proposing would be too little too late. On protecting nature, much is aspirational and needs to be fleshed out. The detailed measures that will follow must tackle the production and consumption patterns that have brought us to the brink,” Franziska Achterberg, EU spokesperson for Greenpeace, told the Guardian

Others found things to appreciate but questioned the plan’s emphasis on continued economic growth: “The proposed package is comprehensive, identifying the right areas for action – from biodiversity and nature restoration to climate change and stopping deforestation,” Ester Asin, director of European policy at the World Wildlife Fund, told the Guardian. “However, by emphasizing continued economic growth as a key objective, the commission has missed an opportunity to challenge the traditional growth paradigm in favor of an approach that would respect planetary boundaries.”

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