By Mark Watts
Now the dust has settled on the results of the European elections it’s becoming clearer who will secure which top jobs. It’s also becoming clearer what the policy priorities will be over the next five years.
And the three top policy priorities of the EU?
Environment, environment, environment.
Environmental issues now top the European agenda like never before, in all three institutions. This is driven by growing public demands for governments to do more to fight climate change, and net zero carbon emissions by 2050 is now the goal. This in practice means dramatic and short-term reductions in carbon will be demanded, together with other accompanying environmental measures, including sustainable use and protection of water and marine resources, transition to a circular economy, waste prevention and recycling, pollution prevention and control, and protection of healthy ecosystems.
In the European Parliament support for green and green supporting parties was boosted in the May eelections. Two of the most the most successful parties, the greens and liberals (now Renew) made explicit reference to the need for tougher action to tackle emissions in their programmes. It is likely Renew will lead the Environment Committee, with Pascal Canfin taking the chair. But these are no ordinary liberals. Canfin for example is close to Emmanual Macron, a former French Green MEP who worked for WWF, and was the Senior Advisor on climate at World Resources Institute (WRI), ranked the most
influential think tank in the world.
Although the June European Council failed to agree on a new climate strategy for 2050, because the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary and Poland objected to the mention of a specific date (The conclusions says the EU will “ensure a transition to a climate neutral EU ‘in line with the Paris Agreement’), the vast majority of Member States are now agitating for a net zero carbon emissions by 2050 commitment, and they will prevail sooner rather than later.
Indeed, the slogan for the Finnish Presidency is ‘Sustainable Europe – Sustainable Future’ and a key priority of Finland’s Presidency is the EU’s global leadership in climate action. The Finnish PM said ’In the 2020s, the EU will have the chance to fulfil the expectations of its citizens by taking the lead in addressing the major challenges faced by humanity. The crucial one is climate change, which is why the time for “yes, but” policies for combating climate change is over. In Finland, in the EU and in the world.’
The new European Commissioners will be appointed in the autumn by the Council and Parliament.
They are, in this context, likely to offer strong commitments to tackle climate change, and make other strong environmental pledges.
And let’s not forget it was the existing Commission that launched a strategic long-term vision for a climate-neutral Europe by 2050 back in November last year.
So net zero carbon emission by 2050 will be adopted as an EU target by the end of the year, and then the work really beings. Turning that ambition into a reality will take an enormous amount of work on the part of all three institutions and require an incredible effort on the part of Member States, businesses and citizens.
Real, significant and rapid reductions in carbon will be required year after year to meet that level of ambition.
The new Commission’s Work Programme will spell out in detail what this means for all industrial sectors, and we can expect major new initiatives that seek to align action in key areas such as industrial policy, regional, transport, energy, finance and research, while there will be other new measures to ensure social fairness and ‘a just transition.’
It’s going to be busy and no doubt controversial five years, but the credibility of the EU and Member States and the future of the planet is at stake. If action is not taken to deliver real, significant and rapid reductions in carbon by the next set of European elections, then Europe will be not be able to honour the commitments made under the Paris Agreement, and levels of public anger will rise as rapidly as global temperatures.
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Mark Watts is an EU expert, entrepreneur, former MEP, and EU blogger. He’s Director of LP Brussels and co-ordinator of UK Transport in Europe (UKTiE). His views are his own.