The European Union (EU) has a key role in the field of climate and energy policy. This is because climate change is a transboundary problem, which no nation state or subnational actor can solve on its own. Climate and energy policy as part of environmental policy is thus a shared competence of the Community and its Member States. Climate mitigation has meanwhile become one of the priorities of the European Union. The Paris Agreement represents the guiding principle or yardstick for respective efforts. Therefore, the European Union aims to limit global average temperature rise to “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels” and to pursue efforts to reach even 1.5°C.
Regarding to the formulation of concrete measures and the definition of objectives, the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council need to come to an agreement – just like the usual procedure for policy-making on the European level. On this basis, the European Union has set itself different targets for 2020 and 2030, and it aims to reach climate neutrality in 2050 all over the European Union.
Climate protection measures of the European Union
The main instruments in order to achieve the emission reduction targets are the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme and the burden sharing among Member States. In addition, there are – amongst other things – various directives in the fields of renewable energies or energy efficiency, which Member States have to transpose into national law. The following box provides an overview of some of these measures.
Trading in emission allowances for greenhouse gas emissions is a key element of European Union climate policy. The European Union Emission Trading System (ETS) started already in 2005. It covers power plants and facilities in the power sector, energy-intensive industrial sites and aviation within the European Union. The European Union Emission Trading System (ETS) regulates almost half of the greenhouse gas emissions (45 percent) in Europe and accounts for about 30 percent in Baden-Württemberg.
Under the current terms, operators of affected installations have to acquire allowances for their emissions. The total number of tradable certificates is limited; supply and demand determine the price of the allowances. The more expansive the certificate price, the greater the incentive to take appropriate measures in order to reduce or avoid greenhouse gas emissions.
However, owing to a persistently low price for and a surplus of emission allowances, the Emission Trading System did not have the desired steering effect for a long time. Since mid-2017, however, the price has increased. Meanwhile, a certificate costs between 20 and 30 euros.
In 2021, the fourth trading phase will begin. Then, the number of tradable allowances will fall by 2.2 percent annually instead of the present 1.74 percent, reducing the supply and lowering emissions. In addition, in 2019, decision-makers created a market stability reserve in order to cut an excessive surplus of allowances according to a predefined calculation model.
The so-called Effort Sharing Decision covers emissions that fall outside the scope of the Emissions Trading System. These include emissions from buildings, transport, agriculture and waste management.
The target set for 2030 is to reduce these emissions throughout Europe by 30 percent compared to 2005. For this purpose, the EU Member States assigned themselves different objectives depending on their economic strength, which they are supposed to achieve primarily through national measures (see figures; the United Kingdom is still included although it has withdrawn from the European Union). The spectrum of national targets ranges from zero to 40 percent. Germany strives to reduce its emission by 38 percent.
Beyond that, the European Union has defined further measures and activities to meet its climate and energy targets. For instance, vehicle manufacturers have to comply with performance standards for CO2 emissions for new passenger cars and light commercial vehicles. Additionally, domestic appliances and other machines and gadgets have to comply with strict energy efficiency standards according to the Ecodesign Directive. Furthermore, there are guidelines for European Union Member States to promote renewable energies within their jurisdictions.
In many cases, the European Union makes use of the instrument of a directive. These are not directly applicable, but Member States have to transpose them into national law first. In contrast to directly effective so-called regulations, directives usually provide a certain frame, whereby the Member States can then decide on the concrete implementation themselves. One example is the European Energy Performance in Buildings Directive (EPBD), through which the European Union aims to achieve an energy-efficient and decarbonised (that is to say carbon-free with no CO2 or methane emissions) building stock by 2050.
Last but not least, the European Union provides substantial financial resources for climate protection. From 2014 until 2020, the European Union earmarked 20 percent of its budget for climate action, corresponding to a sum of 180 billion euros. Under the multiannual financial framework of the European Union from 2021 to 2027, this share is set to rise even further.
The European Green Deal
The European Commission presented its "European Green Deal" in December 2019. With this communication, the Commission aims to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050 and to give a high priority to environmental and climate protection. Accordingly, the European Green Deal represents a new growth strategy to “transform the European Union into a fair and prosperous society, with a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy” and with no net greenhouse gas emissions.
The European Green Deal covers almost all areas of the economy and spheres of life. It includes a vast amount of announcements for new initiatives, action plans and strategies. In March 2020, for example, the European Commission has already presented a proposal for a “European climate law". The following series of pictures presents the main elements of the Green Deal under the different chapters. Due to the corona pandemic, there may be shifts in the timetables.