The European Commission has finally, and historically, placed the European Green Deal as a core strategy on their 2019-2024 political guidelines. Ursula von Der Leyen, the new Commission President, should be commended for finally putting forward as a key priority the foundations of a plan to tackle climate change. We, of course, were not expecting a detailed plan after two weeks in office – although such a plan is direly needed. Now is the time to take this outline of a green deal and make it into a credible and tangible reality.
From a European Greens/EFA perspective, the group’s key overall messages will be the major criteria against which the group are going to evaluate the Commission’s proposals:
- The objectives of the Green Deal must not only be in line with the 1.5°C global warming target; it must be about respecting all planetary boundaries;
- The Green Deal must ensure policy coherence. There should be climate/biodiversity/resource-proofing of all policies, including with the CAP and trade policies;
- Climate action must go hand-in-hand with the reduction of inequalities;
- GND needs a green financial system, rather than just some greening of parts of finance.
The line of thinking is the right one, although of course, these points are just a general thematic overview that should underwrite our approach to the Green Deal. The practical reality must ensure our transition to a more sustainable society with some concrete measures that will rapidly propel us to a zero-carbon, nature-friendly economy, create thousands of jobs, improve health and tackle inequality.
These ideas were included in my report The Green New Deal in the North West, and in concrete terms, we identified areas where a Green New Deal can force much-needed change. The report addresses five key areas:
- Renewable energy supply
- Energy-efficient buildings
- Sustainable transport
- A zero-carbon, circular economy
- Land use, food and biodiversity
So how do we help the European Commission maintain a focus on these areas? We need to provide tangible solutions with frameworks like The Green New Deal in the North West, that prioritise human and environmental sustainability at the local level, and make them a success story. This model can be replicated on the international stage in institutions like the EU to give our solutions the widest reach.
There is no doubt that some issues will require local solutions, and others will need coordinated efforts with our European partners. The difficulty lies in finding the right balance between local, bottom-up solutions and international standards that need to be regulated for the greater good.
In the EU, energy production and use, including the energy used in transport, account for some 80 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. The five key areas covered in my report would allow us to tackle the bulk of emissions in the EU, as well as in North West England.
Let’s take energy, for example. We urgently need a rapid transition to a smart, zero-carbon energy system and halt all future fossil fuel developments. It is also a reality that many communities rely on the jobs provided by the energy sector. The focus in the Green Deal should be on investing in these people, rather than leaving them behind, and give them the opportunity to re-train in green industries or work in environmental restoration schemes – a policy already implemented by the Spanish government in 2018.
By keeping the focus on people, policies such as improving the energy efficiency of building stock can be a strong way of tackling the climate emergency, while at the same time delivering social justice for those who are affected by fuel poverty. Furthermore, improving energy efficiency can help our public institutions make substantial financial savings as well as in the case of hospitals, speed up patient recovery times. These kinds of societal changes will benefit our communities and leave no one behind.
Policies to be implemented at the EU level, are also needed.
The most important of which is the reform of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). Firstly, decreasing the number of free allowances in the ETS and secondly, increase the pace of removing emission allowances from the system (which will lead to a higher price on emissions and a faster decrease in emissions).
Secondly, we need to introduce a Border Carbon Adjustment mechanism (in other words, a carbon border tariff) to avoid carbon leakages with companies who manage to avoid climate regulation and paying for their emissions.
And lastly, introducing a kerosene tax. Airlines should pay energy and fuel taxes like everyone else, and we have to tackle airline emissions, a sector where emissions are still growing significantly.
The Green Deal needs to not aim only at ‘hard policies’ that incentivise the rollout of renewable energy systems and increase the cost of emissions. We also need ‘soft policies’ that change the way we consume, live and travel without putting the responsibility of those changes on individuals – particularly the poorest. For example, making it easy for people to choose public transport over their car, expanding cycling infrastructure to make cycling less dangerous and more accessible. In other words, policies should also aim to encourage new, positive types of behaviour.
That is where we will be able to test the real ambition of political leaders.
Going forward as Greens, we should take a demanding but constructive approach. At this early stage, simply criticising the Commission for not being bold or concrete enough will prove to be counterproductive. We need to ensure that a firm but collaborative approach is what will get the key Greens/EFA demands for the European Green Deal on the table.
These are baby steps, but adequate ones if we want to act and save the future of young people and the planet.