International climate protection

European Union climate and energy policies

Louise-Weiss-Gebäude in Straßburg, Sitz des Europäischen Parlaments

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.

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.

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Green ecology Kohlendioxid icon on wooden background
Green ecology Kohlendioxid icon on wooden background

Increasing the European Union’s Climate ambition for 2030 and 2050

The European Commission has proposed a European Climate Law in order to make the climate neutrality target by 2050 legally binding. In addition, the European Commission suggested to increase the European Union's 2030 climate target to at least 50 percent or even 55 percent (previously: at least 40 percent) compared to 1990. In order to achieve the new targets, the EU should then review and, if necessary, revise all relevant legislative measures (e.g. the emissions trading system or energy directives) to deliver on the increased climate ambition. If the European Union unilaterally increases its climate targets and other countries do not follow suit, the Commission wants the European Union to introduce a “carbon border adjustment mechanism” for selected sectors to reduce the risk of carbon leakage. The European institutions are also expected to adopt a new, more ambitious Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change.

 

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Open space photovoltaic system with a power pole and wind turbines in the background and sunflowers
Open space photovoltaic system with a power pole and wind turbines in the background and sunflowers

Supplying clean, affordable and secure energy

In this area, the Commission will present a strategy on how to implement a smart integration of sectors – renewable electricity is supposed to play a key role for decarbonising the transport and the building sector. To this end, the European Union shall promote the decarbonisation of the gas sector and lay the foundations for a new, climate-neutral energy infrastructure (including energy storage, smart grids, hydrogen networks, carbon capture, storage and utilisation). The Commission will also provide guidance to address the risk of energy poverty.

 

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Metal industry manager and engineer meeting in factory
Metal industry manager and engineer meeting in factory

Mobilising industry for a clean and circular economy

In addition to the presentation of a new European Union industrial strategy, a new action plan for the circular economy with an emphasis on resource-intensive sectors will build upon a 2015 version. By supporting more sustainable products, the European Union shall also contribute to climate protection. EU regulatory measures shall aim to significantly reduce the amount of generated waste. In addition, a focus is on promoting breakthrough technologies in key sectors, such as zero-carbon steel making processes.

 

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Old building insulation with Neopor
Old building insulation with Neopor

Building and renovating in an energy and resource efficient way

In order to at least double the annual renovation rate of the building stock while ensuring affordable housing, the European Union and its Member States should engage in a "renovation wave" of public and private buildings. In addition, the Commission intends to rigorously enforce legislation on energy efficiency in buildings. Possibly the European Union will include the building sector in the European Emissions Trading System. With a revision of the Construction Products Regulation, the European Commission wants to ensure that the design of new and renovated buildings meets the requirements of the circular economy and climate targets at all stages.

 

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Two cyclists on bike path from behind
Two cyclists on bike path from behind

Accelerating the shift to sustainable and smart mobility

The Commission will adopt a strategy for sustainable and smart mobility to address challenges in the transport sector for reaching climate neutrality with respect to all emission sources and thus all modes of transport. Among the proposals in this area are measures to increase the capacity of railways, incentives for smart traffic management systems ("Mobility as a Service"), phasing out subsidies for fossil fuels, a possible extension of European Union emissions trading to road transport and the maritime sector as well as new CO2 emission performance standards for cars and vans.

 

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 A field with a tractor
A field with a tractor

From ‘Farm to Fork’: A fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly food system

The “Farm to Fork” strategy aims to support efforts of European farmers and fishermen to tackle climate change, protect the environment and preserve biodiversity, and it strives to promote sustainable food consumption. Moreover, the European Commission will assess national strategic plans under the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in order to inter alia ensure compliance with environmental criteria and to encourage the use of sustainable practices such as precision agriculture and organic farming.

 

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Honey Bee On Clover
Honey Bee On Clover

Preserving and restoring ecosystems and biodiversity

An European Union biodiversity strategy, followed up by specific actions, will contribute to the negotiations for an international agreement on biodiversity. A new European Union forest strategy should provide for the improvement and conservation of forest areas and afforestation, which also helps mitigating climate change. In addition, the European Commission wants to ensure a more sustainable management of the maritime space, as the production of renewable energy in the sea, for example through offshore wind energy, is becoming more and more important.

 

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Emission-free mobility: small car made of grass
Emission-free mobility: small car made of grass

A zero pollution ambition for a toxic-free environment

The European Commission intends to adopt a zero pollution action plan for air, water and soil. One of the aims is to restore the natural functions of groundwater and surface waters by reducing pollution from excess nutrients, micro plastics and chemicals.

 

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A plant grows in a glass full of coins
A plant grows in a glass full of coins

Further aspects

With the European Green Deal, the European Commission wants to ensure that sustainability is integrated into all European Union policy areas ("green oath"). Measures to ascertain sufficient finance and investments have to play a part to be able to reach the targets within the Green Deal. The European institutions also strive to safeguard a just transition regarding to associate changes in the economic structure and respective impacts on employment. Other cross-cutting issues are the mobilisation of research and fostering of innovation. The Green Deal also addresses the European Union's role as a global leader by developing a “green deal diplomacy” and establishing a European Climate Pact to involve the public and all relevant stakeholders.