Crucial week for EU to show true colours on green ambitions
Hours after his inauguration, US President Joe Biden signed 17 executive orders to reverse what he saw as the most damaging actions of his predecessor Donald Trump. Among them was re-entering the Paris Agreement, the world’s ambitious effort to fight climate change.
Through his action, Biden turned the US into an ally for the EU in averting catastrophe.
Now the 27-nation bloc itself needs to deliver and anchor achieving climate neutrality by 2050 in law – something that will not be easy. A first test will come up this week, when the White House hosts an event to promote environmental protection and boost the green economy.
The US is set to unveil its targets for reducing carbon emissions at the virtual summit. But the EU might come up empty-handed - unless it manages to rapidly agree on how to plan the path to sustainability. The weight of the delegation shows the importance of the issue: the presidents of the European Commission and European Council will join, as well as the prime ministers of Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Poland.
After months of negotiations, the Council – which represents the EU 27 - and the European Parliament will meet on Tuesday to try and wrap up the text of the Climate Law. But it will be a tall order. While most of the technical work on the text is done, a few important unsolved issues remain hot political potatoes. The question by how much to cut emissions by 2030 is the main one. The Council does not want to go beyond 55%. Parliament insists on 60%.
The EU has bragged loudly about wanting to lead the global fight against climate change. If it wants to put its money where its mouth is, it’d better close the deal on the Climate Law before dialing into their Zoom accounts to participate in Joe Biden’s summit.
And it is not the only sustainability landmark for the EU this week. The bloc needs massive investment in sustainable projects if it wants to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. On Wednesday, the Commission is set to unveil a plan for the EU taxonomy, which will provide criteria for what is to be considered ‘green investments’ and what is not. The initiative aims at unlocking billions of euros in investment towards a sustainable economy, while avoiding green washing – a term used to indicate projects that are sustainable in name only.
The Commission is also expected to issue a plan to require companies to regularly report on their progress towards sustainability. The guidelines will cover dozens of industries, from transport to energy. Two keenly awaited verdicts are whether natural gas and nuclear energy will get the green label. It is another issue that has proven to be divisive. France and Eastern countries rely on nuclear energy and want it to be counted as contributing to achieving climate neutrality. But others such as Germany – which is phasing out nuclear energy – are banking on natural gas as part of their energy mix and want it to be approved to transition towards a cleaner energy.
But the dispute about natural gas and nuclear energy may have to wait longer, as news agency Bloomberg reported the Commission could delay its decision until the end of the year.
What the Eurocrat will be also watching:
Digitalisation is the other pillar of the Commission’s policy making and a key piece of legislation is due on this topic as well this week. The Commission’s Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager is set to present a draft regulation to deal with Artificial Intelligence. On the one hand, Vestager wants to use AI technology. On the other hand, she will need rules to contain the brain in a box – in particular in healthcare, transport, recruitment and the legal system.