European Union Policy Studies

Taking Charge


By Sara Rzegocki

Sustainability, climate change, energy transitions. These are just some of the buzzwords commonly used when describing the future of the economy. Many countries compete to be leaders in environmental sustainability and adapt their policies in accordance with updated environmental standards. But what exactly does that look like and how are countries trying to promote these practices?

Historically, the European Union (EU) has been extremely proactive in promoting sustainability practices. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has furthered these initiatives by making the “European Green Deal” her top priority. The European Green Deal has an overarching ambitious goal of making Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. Broken down, climate neutrality means achieving net-zero emissions, finding a balance between emitting and absorbing carbon. While this is a bold promise, it does not lack substance.

In order to achieve this grand goal, the EU has promoted minor changes over time in hopes of having a greater effect. These changes include decarbonizing the gas sector, promoting biodiversity, creating European Green Cities, and increasing the number of electric cars on the roads. Every sub-goal has its own strategy and plan and was created to show that climate change is an issue that should be tackled at multiple levels. Taking a cue from Celeste Ng’s popular novel and hit television show, little fires everywhere can spark a monumental flame.     

The EU calls on every country and every sector to pledge to commit to the European Green Deal through the adoption of the European Climate Law. This law was proposed by the European Commission in January of 2020. It formally instates the climate-neutrality goal and would propel the EU to officially undertake the European Green Deal. Approving this law sets a global precedent as twenty-seven countries pledge to fully commit themselves to environmental initiatives and sustainability measures. It goes beyond the Paris Climate Agreement and United Nations Sustainability Goals as a further binding agreement for the EU member states.     

To support the European Climate Law and the European Green Deal, a roadmap was created to articulate exactly how the EU will pursue its goals. The current roadmap has a meticulous timeline that details when the proposals for the various strategies would be initiated. The different strategies are spaced out to show the gradual process of achieving climate neutrality. After all, change is gradual.

To actually achieve these goals, money is needed. Lots of money. President von der Leyen planned to create a one trillion Euro investment plan to fund diverse initiatives to achieve the goals. This investment plan, called the Sustainable Europe Investment Plan, calls for public and private investors and contributions from the European Investment Bank. Every member state will contribute to the plan through the EU budget, where larger shares of the funds will be directed to climate and environmental action. Investment from outside sources is greatly needed to support this plan because disgruntled member states are already needing to increase their contributions to the EU budget due of Brexit.  

Some EU countries are more advanced in their sustainability initiatives. Countries like Sweden have a strong environmental sector while other countries, such as Poland, lag. Part of the Sustainable Europe Investment Plan is to equitably share and assist countries with their sustainability transitions. The Just Transition Fund (JTF) was proposed to help countries transition to a climate-neutral economy. JTF would provide additional resources and funding for eligible countries to support clean energy investments, start-ups and assist workers to further develop skills and competencies. President von der Leyen acknowledges that each country has different capabilities and capacities. Rather than punishing those who lack the infrastructure, she is encouraging them to join the EU’s initiative, showing support and providing assistance. This fund eliminates the excuse of inaction or lack of resources on the part of member states. The EU exemplifies that change is possible everywhere through strong leadership and guidance. 

The EU is showing solidarity in its effort to combat climate change and promote environmental sustainability. President von der Leyen has streamlined this issue because of its growing importance to the EU citizens. 93% of EU citizens view climate change as a serious problem, showing further support for the initiatives proposed in the European Green Deal.

There is still a lot of work to be done as the European Climate Law has not been officially approved yet. However, the mobilization behind this initiative is evident as the EU and its citizens prioritize this issue, showing their commitment to improving environmental sustainability. Rather than just promoting these buzzwords, they are putting substantial action and movement to make the words come to life.

Sara Rzegocki is a member of the 2019-2020 EUPS cohort. She graduated from JMU in 2019 with a major in Public Policy and Administration and a minor in Economics.

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Published: Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Last Updated: Tuesday, May 19, 2020

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