First look at the European Green Deal

The European Commission has unveiled its much-anticipated Green Deal. IEEP has taken an early look at the content and published an analysis. Below are our first impressions.

The latest State of the Environment Report by the European Environment Agency and the 2019 Europe Sustainable Development Report by IEEP and SDSN show that Europe is way off track across nearly all environmental and sustainability targets. 

The EU urgently needs a new and ambitious blueprint for tackling climate change, pollution, biodiversity loss and overconsumption. That the new Commission’s first major policy announcement starts to address this urgency carries an important message.

"The Green Deal has the potential to create an inclusive, green and clean economy that benefits those left behind and protects the health of European citizens. Now, the President of the European Commission will need to convince the Council and Parliament to step up the ambition."

— Céline Charveriat, IEEP Executive Director

"This is an opportunity to move away from a paradigm of growth based on production and consumption and to start thinking about the radical change that's needed to deliver the quality of life that the European citizens demand and a response to the environmental crisis that's urgently needed."

— Martin Nesbit, IEEP Senior Fellow and Head of the Climate and Environmental Governance Programme

Our researchers have put together an analysis that looks at the problem areas identified in the latest State of the Environment Report and assesses how well the Green Deal’s policy proposals address the sustainability and environmental objectives deemed by EEA unlikely to be met by 2020.

Below are our first impressions of the European Green Deal, which we shared on 11 December.

Does the Green Deal set clear, long-term goals, based on scientific analysis?

The communication sets out a process for agreeing on more ambitious goals. For many, those goals are not ambitious enough – but they will need to be agreed with Council and Parliament.

Will the Green Deal drive early action?

That's still unclear. The communication recognises the urgency, and it is good to see that the Commission will review the whole range of climate legislation. But the process for agreeing on new goals needs to ensure they are in place at least by next year’s climate COP 26. And the legislative changes need to ensure a rapid response in the real economy.

Will the Member States deliver?

The sooner new climate targets are in place, the sooner Member States will have to start taking action to deliver them. Integrating SDGs into the semester process is a good step – but are there any mechanisms to make the Member States listen to what the Commission says about their performance?

Does the Green Deal help ensure policy coherence?

There are some potentially valuable new mechanisms, and a role for Timmermans to ensure that all proposals are coherent with environmental objectives will be useful. But the policy coherence for new proposals doesn’t address existing policy and doesn’t control what the legislators in Council and EP decide. The emphasis on speed of decision-making on chemicals is a concern – it’s better to have thorough risk assessments than quick ones

Does the Green Deal cover a broad range of environmental issues?

Yes – inevitably, with some gaps. The proposed focus on more effective monitoring of the delivery of targets, and creation of a green deal dashboard, as part of a new environmental action programme, is welcome. Political decision-makers and the wider public need effective mechanisms to be able to see if we are moving in the right direction, and with enough urgency.

Does the Green Deal mobilise finance flows?

Yes – although we’ll need more time to assess to what extent this is new money. A fresh push on energy taxation, and moving away from unanimity, would be a big step in the right direction.

Does it address consumption?

Not really. There’s a proposed Farm to Fork strategy, but it seems mainly concerned with the pesticides issue – important, but only a small part of the production impact of agriculture.

Does it tackle distributional issues?

Yes – there is a focus in the financial proposals on regions adversely affected, and households adversely affected. The emphasis on energy efficiency investment in homes could provide real benefits to poorer households, and the Commission has started to address energy poverty.

Does it tackle inter-generational equity?

The jury is still out. It depends on whether the European Green Deal leads to early action on the ground to deliver radical long-term decarbonisation.

Does it deliver the EU’s fair share to support the Sustainable Development Goals globally?

Yes and no. The commitment to legislation on the long-term and 2030 climate targets has the potential – if it is early and ambitious enough – to reinforce the EU’s leadership role and help create momentum for greater global mitigation ambition.

The pledged legislative action on climate neutrality and an increase in climate ambition show leadership on the global arena, as does the promise of a new and more comprehensive action plan on circular economy. However, the global footprint of the EU’s consumption is not directly addressed.

The promise to mainstream sustainable development objectives in EU trade agreements is reaffirmed, with a proposal to make the respect of the Paris agreement an essential element for all future comprehensive trade agreements.

However, the Green Deal falls short in identifying concrete instruments to achieve the mainstreaming in practice, though the foreseen regulatory and non-regulatory measures to promote deforestation-free value chains are likely to support such efforts.

Finally, climate policy implications are foreseen to become an integral part of the EU’s external policy

Photo © European Union 2019