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European Green Deal: A decent response to the climate crisis?

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Imagine Europe where transport operates by means of renewable energy, the aviation industry is not exempt from taxes, no hazardous chemicals are polluting rivers and air, and the monetary budget is spent on fighting climate change.  Does it sound like a dream? No need to wake up, this vision is to come true in the European Union by 2050. How is this dream called? The European Green Deal.

What is the European Green Deal in a nutshell?

The main aim of the New Green Deal is to make the EU climate-neutral by 2050. To achieve this, the European Climate Law was designed to make a net-zero pledge legally binding by the middle of the century.

Other aims include:

  1. Decoupling of economic growth from resource use meaning that the economy grows without increasing pressures on the environment per unit of GDP.
  2. Introduction of the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM). CBAM ensures that if a product imported from a country outside the EU with no national Emission Trading System in place, it will be taxed additionally. This new measure is aimed at preventing outsourcing to pollution havens in the first place.
  3. A circular economy action plan. This involves establishing a ‘right to repair’ and restriction of single-use packaging.
  4. Decarbonisation of the mobility sector. Fossil-fuel subsidies are supposed to end, tax exemptions for aviation and maritime fuels should be revised, and sustainable transport fuel use is to be expanded to transform the EU into a zero- and low-emission mobility paradise.
  5. A Farm to Fork strategy promoting sustainable food supply. Organic farming, stricter animal welfare standards, reduction of fertilizer and pesticide use are among the key components of this policy area.
  6. Forest policy including afforestation, forest preservation and restoration across the EU.
  7. NextGenerationEU as part of the EU’s long-term budget, where 30% of the funds (or 225 billion euro) will be invested in fighting climate change.

Other aspects of the Green Deal are presented in the picture below.

Looks and sounds great, right? Well, the devil is in the details.

First of all, having net-zero emissions does not mean there is no carbon being emitted. In contrast, more CO2 could be emitted as a result of this strategy but compensated via different carbon offsetting practices, for example, by planting trees or abating methane.

Next, the European Green Deal does not specify whether they want to achieve relative or absolute decoupling of economic growth from resource use. If relative decoupling is the goal, then the ecological impact per unit of GDP will decrease which, however, does not necessarily mean that the overall impact will be falling. On the contrary, it might be still rising causing more overall resource use and environmental damage.

Another point is that taxes and other monetary incentives are not a panacea to climate change-related issues. If no redistribution policies are in place, their efficiency is highly debated because the funds may end up fueling growth of environmentally unfriendly sectors. Moreover, various critical points have been discussed considering the EU ETS emphasising that it should be rather fully abolished than extended and supplemented even further.

Last but not least, considering the emergency of the climate change issue, the EU Green Deal lacks urgent ambitiousness. It proposes restrictions on diverse substances, but lacks bans. It suggests transitions, but lacks phase-outs. It talks a lot about green growth, but does not mention alternatives not involving growth.

As Greenpeace EU spokesperson Franziska Achterberg remarked: “The climate, ecological and inequality crises require a fundamental rethink of the economic system that for decades has rewarded pollution, environmental destruction and human exploitation” (Greenpeace press release, 11.12.2019). Does the European Green Deal provide a fundamental rethink of the economic system? The answer depends on what exactly is meant by “fundamental”.

By Liliia Akatova


European Commission (2019): Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: The European Green Deal. COM(2019) 640 final. Available online at: https://op.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/b828d165-1c22-11ea-8c1f-01aa75ed71a1/language-en (accessed 09/04/2021)

European Commission (2020a): Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: A new Circular Economy Action Plan – For a cleaner and more competitive Europe. COM/2020/98 final. Available online at: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=COM:2020:98:FIN&WT.mc_id=Twitter (accessed 09/04/2021)

European Commission (2020b): Proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing the framework for achieving climate neutrality and amending Regulation (EU) 2018/1999 (European Climate Law). Available online at: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1588581905912&uri=CELEX:52020PC0080 (accessed 09/04/2021)

European Commission (2021): The 2021-2027 EU budget – What’s new? Available online at: https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/eu-budget/long-term-eu-budget/2021-2027/whats-new_en (accessed 09/04/2021)

Greenpeace (2019): European Green Deal misses the mark. Available online at: https://www.greenpeace.org/eu-unit/issues/climate-energy/2517/european-green-deal-misses-the-mark/ (accessed 15/04/2021)

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