Sweeping changes to the European economy to better meet the challenges of climate change and ecological breakdown were promised by the European Green Deal, unveiled on 11 December in a speech in Brussels by the European Commission’s new president, Ursula von der Leyen.
Promising a wide range of measures, from tougher air quality requirements to setting standards to shape the evolution of a circular economy, the announcement set out a roadmap for making the EU more sustainable across almost every sector of the economy, with special attention to things like energy, agriculture and transport.
She described it as Europe’s “new growth strategy, for a growth that gives back more than it takes away.”
Central to the plan is a world-leading pledge to make Europe carbon neutral by 2050, and to halve emissions by 2030. The net zero commitment was expected as it had already been endorsed by the EU Parliament in November. A legislative roadmap for achieving this – “Communication on the European Green Deal”- was published in 2018.
The announcement also declares an intention to probe more deeply into the problems that give rise to carbon emissions and pollution, with policies that change the way manufacturing is conducted, for example – a departure from the previous practice of simply setting recycling rates.
Under the deal, it seems, regulators will have the power to set more exacting standards for manufacturers, pursuant to the creation of a circular economy.
Commenting on the significance of the plan, Foreign Policy magazine said that while it was undoubtedly “ambitious”, it was “technically feasible”, which it said contrasted with the Green New Deal previously announced by the Democratic Party in the US, which sets its sights on complete decarbonisation of the world’s biggest economy within 10 years.
But the publication also wondered “what’s the point?”, when you consider the US’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement and the ever-ramping emissions of developing nations. Europe. After all, the EU only contributes 10% of global emissions.
Then again, commentators suggested, if Europe succeeds in proving the feasibility of decarbonization on this kind of scale, in one of the world’s wealthiest economic regions, then almost no better case can be made to inspire other policymakers in other parts of the world to follow suit.
The speech also promised the publication of the first European Climate Law in the Spring, providing legislation enshrining the commitment to be the first climate neutral continent.