Will Europe’s Green Deal prove a giant leap for planet Earth?
EU Commission announces ambitious blueprint for carbon neutrality by 2050, but Brussels faces challenges with moonshot.
Madrid, Spain – With delegates from around the globe hoping on Friday to finish negotiating contentious details for the next instalment of a United Nations climate agreement, protesters bemoan a lack of progress and naysayers reject the process entirely.
But a big new burst of energy from Brussels could help convince diplomats and environmental advocates on the world stage that Europe is serious about its plans, giving negotiators from other continents a reason to amp up their own commitments.
On Wednesday, the executive body of the European Union unveiled a detailed road map for turning the bloc’s economy – collectively the biggest on the planet – into a sustainable and revitalised force for the 21st century.
The far-reaching European Green Deal (EGD) promises to create the “first climate-neutral continent by 2050”, but internal divisions threaten to slow the supercharged plan from getting off the ground.
“This is Europe’s man on the Moon moment,” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said at the launch event in the European capital for the grand ecological project.
Her bold language underscores the signal that the EU is sending to international markets about climate action driving economic growth through socially inclusive policies.
Spain‘s acting Minister for the Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, said that the EU Green New Deal is “extremely helpful to generate trust on the level of ambition”.
“It is a big and important step forward,” said Ribera, whose ministry is hosting the COP25 talks. “We want and need [this determination] from everyone.”
She added in a statement provided to Al Jazeera that the overarching climate policy would “generate a favourable environment for partners to become excited about replicating this at home”.
But Ribera also cautioned at a press briefing on the sidelines of the UN gathering on Thursday, there is “a mismatch between some parties willing to enhance and accelerate action” and other actors reluctant to move faster than initially prescribed by the 2015 Paris Agreement targets.
‘Just and inclusive transition’
The official announcement of the plan describes it as a “road map with actions to boost the efficient use of resources by moving to a clean, circular economy” and notes that the plan “outlines investments needed and financing tools available, and explains how to ensure a just and inclusive transition”.
The perceived strength of the EGD is in the identification of the range of sectors contributing to climate change that will be forced to reduce emissions: from agriculture and buildings to shipping and aviation, two areas not included in Paris targets.
It also emphasises stringent environmental protection, curbs on pollution and decarbonisation of the power sector.
“The European Green Deal is going in the right direction,” said Neil Makaroff, an EU policy officer at Climate Action Network France.
“For the first time, the European Commission president made climate a high priority at the top of the agenda, because of pressure from European citizens and the elections last May,” he added, referring to parliamentary voting in which green parties made historic gains.
But, Makaroff told Al Jazeera, despite all the long-term goals of the EGD, it is lacking in short-term action. The revised emissions targets for 2030 may not be announced until next June, creating uncertainty at a time when other countries – namely China – could follow Europe’s lead.
He also said that the European climate law could be put into place by March, which will create the legal momentum for countries to proceed.
Some nations, particularly France, bristle at “sustainable” definitions pushed by Germany and others that would exclude nuclear power from financial assets considered “green” by the European Central Bank’s “taxonomy”.
However, Makaroff stressed that the deal would hinge upon successful passage of a $100bn “just transition” mechanism – to be proposed in January 2020 – that will help poorer areas of Europe switch over to renewables and create new jobs.
Yet the cost will likely be astronomical, with Europe already facing a $260bn annual shortfall to meet existing climate targets.
‘The commission will not wait’
At the European Council on Thursday, the leaders of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic resisted efforts to reach unanimity on the goal of “climate neutrality” by 2050. But their objections may in turn be silenced by generous financial backing to move past fossil fuels.
Ultimately, only Poland held out – with two main concerns about implementation. Warsaw wants more time to reach “climate neutrality” domestically and has demanded more specifics on the funds available in the EU budget.
Eastern and Southern European states will rely heavily on such money from Brussels.
Giuseppe Sala, the mayor of Milan, described the blueprint as “our chance to profoundly rethink how our economies operate” to build a fairer society.
“I have to confess that, on the European Green Deal, everyone found something they liked,” said Quentin Genard, head of the Brussels office for E3G, a climate change think tank.
Genard said, however, that even the dissenting voices in the European Council support the contours of the EGD.
“The discussion on climate neutrality is a separate issue,” he told Al Jazeera. “This has been going on for a while, and this is happening among member states – not with the commission.”
“The EGD absolutely does hinge on delivering climate neutrality by 2050,” he added. “But the commission will not wait for European leaders [in the European Council].”
Genard said EU climate discussions are focused “more about the ‘how’ than the ‘whether'”.
Speaking at COP25 on Thursday, European Commission Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans said that the EGD “will warrant a systemic change” encouraging other parts of the world to “overcome potential hesitations” in down-to-the-wire negotiations.
He also said the pricey and complicated transition “is not fun” to impose on the EU – or on anyone else facing the same existential threats from global warming.
“Mother Earth is becoming even more unforgiving for how we are treating her,” said Timmermans, who has been shuttling back and forth this week between Brussels and Madrid. “The European Green Deal could be a cornerstone.”