At the end of 2019, the EU adopted its ambitious European Green Deal and has started its implementation aiming to achieve carbon neutrality till 2050. Reaching this target will require action by all sectors of the EU economy, including
- investing in environmentally-friendly technologies
- supporting industry to innovate
- rolling out cleaner, cheaper and healthier forms of private and public transport
- decarbonising the energy sector
- ensuring buildings are more energy efficient
- working with international partners to improve global environmental standards
Subsequently, the Union´s carbon reduction target till 2030 has been increased from previous 40 % to at least 55 % comparing to 1990 levels.
The EU Green Deal is a new growth strategy of the EU to promote ambitious environment, climate and energy policies, with the ultimate objective to boost sustainable development. It is a roadmap how to move to a clean, circular economy and adapt to climate change, revert biodiversity loss and cut pollution. It outlines investments needed and financing tools available and explains how to ensure a just and inclusive transition to help those that are most affected by the move towards the green economy. The Green Deal covers all sectors of the economy, notably transport, energy, agriculture, buildings, and industries such as steel, cement, ICT, textiles and chemicals.
A green economy is defined as low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive. In a green economy, growth in employment and income are driven by public and private investment into such economic activities, infrastructure and assets that allow reduced carbon emissions and pollution, enhanced energy and resource efficiency, and prevention of the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services.
Green Growth means fostering economic growth and development, while ensuring that natural assets continue to provide the resources and environmental services on which our well-being relies.
Sustainable development means meeting the needs of the present whilst ensuring future generations can meet their own needs. It has three pillars: economic, environmental and social. To achieve sustainable development, policies in these three areas have to work together and support each other. In 2015, world leaders agreed on Agenda 2030, a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets proposed by the United Nations. The EU was instrumental in shaping Agenda 2030. The EU and its member countries are fully committed to implementing Agenda 2030 and its Sustainable Development Goals into EU policies.
The circular economy is a model of production and consumption, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible. In this way, the life cycle of products is extended. In practice, it implies reducing waste to a minimum. When a product reaches the end of its life, its materials are kept within the economy wherever possible. These can be productively used again and again, thereby creating further value. This is a departure from the traditional, linear economic model, which is based on a take-make-consume-throw away pattern. This model relies on large quantities of cheap, easily accessible materials and energy. Also part of this model is planned obsolescence, when a product has been designed to have a limited lifespan to encourage consumers to buy it again.
Strategy for sustainable and smart mobility
The European Green Deal includes a target to reduce transport-related greenhouse gas emissions by 90% by 2050. The Commission intends to adopt a comprehensive strategy to meet this target and ensure that the EU transport sector is fit for a clean, digital and modern economy. Objectives include:
- increasing the uptake of zero-emission vehicles
- making sustainable alternative solutions available to the public & businesses
- supporting digitalisation & automation
- improving connectivity & access.
Renovation Wave Strategy
The EU Renovation Wave Strategy is aimed to improve the energy performance of buildings. The Commission aims to at least double renovation rates in the next ten years and make sure renovations lead to higher energy and resource efficiency. This will enhance the quality of life for people living in and using the buildings, reduce Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions, foster digitalisation and improve the reuse and recycling of materials. By 2030, 35 million buildings could be renovated and up to 160,000 additional green jobs created in the construction sector.
New European Bauhaus
The New European Bauhaus initiative is a part of the European Green Deal. The idea is that the climate emergency can be faced from a multidisciplinary perspective and with the ultimate goal of reaching a circular economy. This does not only concern the construction sector, but also the culture sector, thus considering beauty and humanity values together with a greener architecture. The aim is therefore to develop a style that integrates sustainability with art in order to reach energy efficiency in buildings. This common European approach should help to rethink the way cities are designed, but also the EU way of life in the current socio-economic and political situation. In practice, the intention is to bring together all interested stakeholders from architects and engineers to designers, but also construction workers, students and entrepreneurs. They will be consulted in the first phase of this movement so they can bring together their skills and ideas until next summer.
Farm to Fork Strategy
The Farm to Fork Strategy is at the heart of the European Green Deal aiming to make food systems fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly. Food systems cannot be resilient to crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic if they are not sustainable. We need to redesign our food systems which today account for nearly one-third of global GHG emissions, consume large amounts of natural resources, result in biodiversity loss and negative health impacts (due to both under- and over-nutrition) and do not allow fair economic returns and livelihoods for all actors, in particular for primary producers. Putting our food systems on a sustainable path also brings new opportunities for operators in the food value chain. New technologies and scientific discoveries, combined with increasing public awareness and demand for sustainable food, will benefit all stakeholders.
The Farm to Fork Strategy aims to accelerate our transition to a sustainable food system that should:
- have a neutral or positive environmental impact
- help to mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts
- reverse the loss of biodiversity
- ensure food security, nutrition and public health, making sure that everyone has access to sufficient, safe, nutritious, sustainable food
- preserve affordability of food while generating fairer economic returns, fostering competitiveness of the EU supply sector and promoting fair trade
The strategy sets out both regulatory and non-regulatory initiatives, with the common agricultural and fisheries policies as key tools to support a just transition.
EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030
The new Biodiversity Strategy tackles the key drivers of biodiversity loss, such as unsustainable use of land and sea, overexploitation of natural resources, pollution, and invasive alien species. It also aims to make biodiversity considerations an integral part of EU’s overall economic growth strategy. The actions foreseen in nature protection, sustainable use and restoration will bring economic benefits to local communities, creating sustainable jobs and growth.
Improving the condition and diversity of agroecosystems will increase the sector’s resilience to climate change, environmental risks and socioeconomic shocks, while creating new jobs, for example in organic farming, rural tourism or recreation. Agroecology can provide healthy food while maintaining productivity, increase soil fertility and biodiversity, and reduce the footprint of food production.
Existing Natura 2000 areas will be complemented with nationally protected areas, ensuring strict protection for zones of very high biodiversity and climate value. In terms of funding, EUR 20 billion/year will be unlocked for biodiversity through various sources, including EU funds, national and private funding.
The Biodiversity Strategy includes 3 stages: protection, restoration and enforcement.
- Protection – Ensure that the remaining forest and pollinators are protected, by reducing pollution, pesticide use and supporting farmers to shift to agroecological and organic practices.
- Restoration – Restore damaged ecosystems and rivers, improve the health of EU protected habitats and species, and for transforming at least 30% of Europe’s lands and seas into effectively managed protected areas and bringing back at least 10% of agricultural area under high-diversity landscape features.
- Enforcement – The targets set will be legally binding as they have been assessed to be realistic and work in practice.
EU Chemical Strategy
The strategy aims to achieve a toxic-free environment with a higher level of protection of human health and the environment, while strengthening the competitiveness of the EU’s chemicals industry. Actions laid down in the strategy, including targeted amendments to streamline EU chemicals legislation, substituting and minimising substances of concern, and phasing out the most harmful chemicals for non-essential societal uses.
The strategy specifically sets out to ban the most harmful chemicals in consumer products such as cosmetics, toys, detergents, childcare items, furniture, textiles or materials that come in contact with food, unless they are deemed essential for health, safety or the functioning of society, or if no alternative is available. Moreover, the strategy aims to limit exposure to endocrine disruptors, which are hazardous for the hormone system, and to reduce the harmful effects of chemical mixtures.
A key novelty in the strategy is the shift of focus onto a” safe and sustainable-by-design” approach. Member states support this life-cycle approach that takes into account the toxicity of chemicals at all stages of their existence – from manufacture to use, recycling and disposal. The purpose is to prevent hazardous chemicals from entering products already at the design phase. This approach also aims to boost innovation and sustainability in the chemicals sector.
Zero Pollution Action Plan
The EU action plan “Towards a Zero Pollution Ambition for air, water and soil – building a Healthier Planet for Healthier People” aims to secure healthy ecosystems and a healthy living environment for Europeans – both individuals and populations. It will help to create a toxic-free environment across the EU by better monitoring and, reporting, and by preventing and remedying pollution from air, water, soil, and consumer products. The plan follows the Green Deal strategy, and its main aims are:
- to better prevent and remedy pollution from air, water, soil, and consumer products
- to mainstream the zero pollution ambition into all policy developments
- to further decouple economic growth from the increase of pollution and
- to strengthen the links between environmental protection, sustainable development and people’s well-being
Just Transition Mechanism
The Just Transition Mechanism aims to help regions that are most reliant on fossil fuels cope with the economic and social impacts of the transition to a sustainable economy. The Just Transition Mechanism is part of the Sustainable Europe Investment Plan, which is the finance component of the European Green Deal. All EU countries are eligible for funding, but resources will be concentrated in regions facing the biggest challenges, focusing on those that need to phase out production and use of coal, lignite, peat and oil shale, or transform carbon-intensive industries. The investments will be assessed and classified using the newly adopted taxonomy.
The Just Transition Mechanism consists of three pillars:
- Pillar 1: Just Transition Fund (JTF): The JTF will support the economic diversification and conversion of affected regions, including by investing in small- and medium-size enterprises (SMEs), the creation of new firms, research and innovation, environmental restoration, clean energy, reskilling of workers, job search assistance, and the transformation of carbon-intensive industries.
- Pillar 2: Just transition scheme under InvestEU: This provides another additional funding for investments in a wider range of projects than the JTF, including investments in energy and transport infrastructure, digitalization and digital connectivity, and the circular economy. These investments will be made by private and public sector entities, with financial products proposed by the InvestEU implementing partners, such as the European Investment Bank Group or national banks.
- Pillar 3: A public sector loan facility: This combines a grant component from the EU budget and a loan component from the European Investment Bank, which is expected to mobilize public investment in energy and transport infrastructure, district heating networks, energy efficiency measures including renovation of buildings, and social infrastructure.
The EU taxonomy is a classification system, establishing a list of environmentally sustainable economic activities. The EU taxonomy is an important enabler to scale up sustainable investment and to implement the European Green Deal. Notably, by providing appropriate definitions to companies, investors and policymakers on which economic activities can be considered environmentally sustainable, it is expected to create security for investors, protect private investors from greenwashing, help companies to plan the transition, mitigate market fragmentation and eventually help shift investments where they are most needed.
The Taxonomy Regulation was published in the Official Journal of the European Union on 22 June 2020 and entered into force on 12 July 2020. It establishes the framework for the EU taxonomy by setting out four overarching conditions that an economic activity has to meet in order to qualify as environmentally sustainable. The Taxonomy Regulation establishes six environmental objectives:
- Climate change mitigation
- Climate change adaptation
- The sustainable use and protection of water and marine resources
- The transition to a circular economy
- Pollution prevention and control
- The protection and restoration of biodiversity and ecosystems
Different means can be required for an activity to make a substantial contribution to each objective.