Media Briefing on European Green Deal: early test of Von der Leyen’s commitment to environment

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On Wednesday 11 December 2019, the European Commission is expected to announce details of its European Green Deal in Brussels – potentially an era-defining policy for the EU.

Through her Political Guidelines, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has presented a bold vision for a greener Europe. She has called for significant climate and environmental action over the next five years. The Green Deal and its roll-out over the coming years is her chance to live up to her promises and follow the rhetoric with concrete actions and commitments.

Commission Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans has been tasked with overseeing the Green Deal, which – if fully embraced by leaders in national capitals – is meant to, and needs to, bring transformative benefits to people and nature in Europe and around the world.

The European Environmental Bureau – Europe’s largest network of environmental citizens’ groups – has put forward a detailed report on priorities and opportunities for the European Green Deal showing what it needs to deliver on. The table below provides more detail on what has been promised and what we expect, as well as our key contact points able to provide more information on each topic.

Commenting on the European Green Deal, EEB Secretary General Jeremy Wates said:

It’s clear that the Green Deal will be a defining policy for the EU over the next five years, especially for younger people, who are demanding significant climate and environmental action. With Greta Thunberg warning that “our house is on fire”, the need for new levels of ambition in addressing the existential problems of our time could not be greater. The European Green Deal provides the opportunity to rise to that challenge and will be an early test for the Von der Leyen Commission.”

As well as delivering on the promises listed below, the European Green Deal’s success will depend on an EU budget which is absolutely sustainability proof and fully aligned with the Green Deal, and on strong measures accompanying it, in particular, to reduce social inequalities across the Union and globally. It also needs to account for climate and environmental impact that our economic system burdens on other parts of the world while we are becoming ‘greener’. The promised transformation can only come off if the European Green Deal is embedded in a long-term strategy for implementing the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals in and by the EU, and becomes a driver in developing a new economic model serving the well-being of people and planet.

The ‘one-in-one-out’ principle in the “Mission Letters” to the new Commissioners, however, presents a major risk to the European Green Deal. It is clear that additional measures are needed to address the climate emergency, the biodiversity crisis and health impacts from chemicals and air and water pollution among others, and to help to realise the commitments to a circular economy transition. The one-in-one-out principle needs to be withdrawn not only on these grounds, but also from a good regulation perspective. It does not make sense to set artificial overall targets on legislation, when the introduction, review, reform or repeal of legislative measures clearly needs to be done each on their own merit.

A leaked draft of elements of the European Green Deal has raised concerns that some of the specific commitments in the European Green Deal will fall well short of what science deems is required to address problems such as climate change. It will be crucial that these concerns are addressed in the final version. The table that follows provides a rough and ready benchmark for measuring success.

Table of promises 

For general media enquiries please contact Emily Macintosh.

For issue-specific questions, please refer to the contact person in final column.

Unless otherwise indicated the promises listed in this table are contained under section 1 ‘A European Green Deal’ in Ursula von der Leyen’s ‘A Union the Strives for More – Political Guidelines for the next European Commission 2019-2024’.

Promise What’s been promised?  What’s still needed?  For more information contact 
Zero pollution target A cross-cutting strategy to protect citizens’ health from environmental degradation and pollution Full implementation of existing horizontal air quality legislation (AAQDs and NECD) must be achieved, also through implementing acts and enforcement action, while the EU works to align air quality standards with the latest WHO guidelines (expected soon) and to strengthen the NECD objectives also establishing reduction targets for methane, black carbon and mercury emissions. The EU commits towards a revised Gothenburg Protocol (UNECE) which includes reduction targets for emissions of methane, black carbon and mercury emissions’.

Existing EU laws like the REACH regulation on chemicals and the Water Framework Directive must be properly implemented and enforced.

In addition, the EU needs to develop a long term (2030 and beyond) overarching framework for chemicals policy that horizontally tackles the various relevant pieces of legislation and policies. The framework needs to ensure a non-toxic environment for current and future generations, including protecting vulnerable populations.

The Industrial Emissions Directive should be transformed to become the new zero-pollution industrial production framework. Emphasis should be on preventing pollution, coherence with policies on the circular economy and decarbonisation.

Industrial pollution rules will need to be redesigned to prioritise energy production, water quality and supply, protein production, resource management, and substitution of chemicals of concern.
Overhaul of reporting requirements, in particular within the EU PRTR and IED Registry, in order to strengthen enforcement of the EU Environmental protection acquis so as to promote actions on pollution prevention, compliance with environmental quality standards and benchmarking of industry performance.
Roberta Arbinolo 
(Air and Industry)Jack Hunter 
A ‘farm to fork’ strategy on sustainable food A plan for more sustainable food We need to build a truly long-term vision for Europe’s food system through meaningful and extensive dialogue with civil society, farmers, and citizens. This must include setting binding targets for agriculture on biodiversity, climate, air pollution, water pollution, and land degradation, and addressing sustainability issues around consumption and trade.

At the same time the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy must be aligned with existing environmental and climate targets.

Celia Nyssens
End to biodiversity loss A promise to curtail the loss of biodiversity within five years Legally binding targets including the restoration of 660,000 km2 of degraded habitats by 2030. This needs to cover a wide range of ecosystems – from peatlands, other wetlands, forests, to coastal zones. Sergiy Moroz
Climate Neutral EU by 2050 Greenhouse gas emissions will be cut or compensated to reach ‘net zero’ by the middle of the century. The 2050 net-zero target has previously been blocked by the governments of Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Estonia. In fact, the EU needs to achieve net-zero well before 2050 – the EEB has called for net-zero to be reached by 2040 at the latest.

Before then, the EU needs to set higher targets to achieve by 2030: at least 65% for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, 40% for energy efficiency and 45% for renewable energy.

Mauro Anastasio
Carbon border tax A way to ‘level the playing field’ by ensuring that companies making products in the EU are not outpriced by polluting industry elsewhere. Carbon border taxes are needed to prevent EU-based companies being at a competitive disadvantage due to future EU climate policies being more stringent than those in other parts of the world. These must be complemented by increased carbon prices in the EU (at lest €100/tCO2 by 2030), a reformed EU-ETS (floor price, full auctioning, faster tightening of allocations).

EU trade agreements must have sustainability chapters with a robust enforcement mechanism and transparent monitoring. They should promote the trade of sustainable goods and services and cut down trade flows of unsustainable goods.

Mauro Anastasio
Climate bank €1trn of sustainable finance investment and turning part of the European Investment Bank into Europe’s climate bank An EIB as a climate bank needs to be complemented by other multilateral banks following suit, a strong climate MFF (eliminating Paris-incompatible funding, ring-fencing climate-friendly investments such as energy efficiency and wetland restoration), and promoting green private funding through a green taxonomy with no space for nuclear or gas infrastructures, and that fully factors environmental impacts into account. Mauro Anastasio
Circular economy action plan Expanding the EU’s work in this area to addresses textiles and construction sectors Strict targets should be set to reduce virgin resource use, with staged reduction objectives up to 2030. The EU’s existing circular economy action plan should be extended to include textiles, furniture, construction and batteries. Our Circular Economy also needs to be strengthened by curtailing waste exports. Mauro Anastasio
Rule of law Promise to use the EU’s budget to make sure that countries follow EU rules
(Under point 4 on ‘Protecting our European way of life’)
Meaningful improvements in the enforcement of EU rules and regulations, especially nature, pollution and chemical laws, for example, by:

  • Committing more resources to legal and technical units responsible for enforcement: This is necessary both at EU and Member State levels.
  • The space for civil society engagement in the public debate needs to be promoted and safeguarded at all time. Legal protection of NGOs, journalists and activists from harassment and persecution are needed.
Francesca Carlsson
Democracy “The record-high turnout in the 2019 European elections shows the vibrancy of our democracy. We must respond to that call by giving Europeans a stronger role in decision-making. We will go further than ever before to make this happen.” (Under point 6: ‘A new push for European Democracy’) a. Ending the EU’s non-compliance with the Aarhus Convention by an amendment to the Aarhus Regulation so as to end the situation whereby NGOs have virtually no access to the Court of Justice of the EU other than in access to documents cases, and thereby bring the EU into compliance with the Aarhus Convention;
b. A new Directive on Access to Justice to ensure remove the obstacles to access to justice at Member State level.
c. Bringing together the environmental, consumer and digital agendas through developing digital technologies that provide consumers with sufficient product information to enable them to make informed environmental choices
Francesca Carlsson
Just Transition Fund A Just Transition Fund to support the people and regions where the transition to a carbon-neutral economy is most challenging. The Just Transition Fund should help finance climate mitigation and climate adaptation and be part of a wider solidarity initiative that can help form a new type of European Social Contract for all Europeans to manage the transition to a Europe that addresses all the environmental crises. The Fund needs to be linked to a broad Just Transition Initiative beyond funding and help to deliver SDG 10 by significantly reducing inequalities by 2030. Mauro Anastasio


Media Briefing on European Green Deal: early test of Von der Leyen’s commitment to environment
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