The Green Deal: Time is running out

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The Green Deal: Time is running out

Agreement must bind Europe to 2050 carbon-neutral pledge


12/6/19, 8:00 AM CET

Today we are no longer asking ourselves whether we need to adapt and mitigate to climate change, but how.

Expectations on the European Green Deal, soon to be unveiled by the European Commission, are therefore high and present an opportunity for the EU to demonstrate that only together can we respond to the most pressing issue of our time.

It must set the bar high, be ambitious, feasible and well resourced, binding Europe to being carbon-neutral by 2050. Crucially, it needs to spell out how it will empower those on the frontline dealing with the climate crisis — local and regional governments — so they can act.

Global leaders are now in Madrid for U.N. climate talks, yet the reality is the world is off course in meeting its Paris Agreement pledge to limit global warming to less than two degrees above pre-industrial levels. Poles are melting, sea levels rising and biodiversity loss is reaching new records. Global warming is already costing €12 billion each year. It’s already impacting people’s lives, with around 20 million “climate refugees” displaced from their homes each year, a number that is expected to rise to 140 million by 2050. The economic, social and environmental cost of inaction is already profound.

Europe has been instrumental in taking global leadership and making progress, but it is still not enough. The European Green Deal is an opportunity for the EU to accelerate the energy transition and decarbonize our economy. It must enshrine into law that the Europe becomes the first climate-neutral continent by 2050, a demand our Committee — the EU-s assembly of local and regional leaders — has made since before the Paris Agreement was signed. It is a bare minimum given the gravity facing us.

The Green Deal needs to mainstream sustainability across all EU policies, ensuring that every piece of legislation delivers locally. Local and regional governments — responsible for more than 70 percent of climate mitigation measures and up to 90 per cent of climate adaptation efforts — are cutting air pollution, or reducing and reusing our waste. Responsible for one-third of carbon emissions, they are making our homes energy efficient. From public transport and protecting biodiversity, to making our farming and food production sustainable, local and regional governments must be more than just allies, but central players and partners in shaping the Green Deal.

The Green Deal will also be a test case on how to put into practice recommendations by the European Commission “active subsidiarity” the principle that the EU should only act if its actions bring real added value in comparison to what can be achieved at a national, regional and local level. We need to seize this opportunity to involve Europe’s one million local and regional leaders throughout the EU policymaking process so that the Green Deal delivers. The EU needs to ensure that regions and cities are directly involved in member states’ national climate and energy plans, and have their efforts measured and recognized, building a truly sustainable future.

With around 54 million Europeans affected by energy poverty and 500,000 people reliant on the fossil industry, it is obvious that we need a just, fair transition. We need policies and funding that support the regions and cities to make the transition, and this means substantial and sustainable investment. The Green Deal must offer a dedicated Just Transition Fund, bringing new finances to the table. Any proposals to take funds from EU regional funds — cohesion policy, which is the EU’s main investment tool to reduce territorial disparities — will not only undermine our climate ambition, but also trust in the European project.

Finally, we need a truly ambitious green EU budget. The current proposal that member states contribute 1.07 percent of GNI is derisory given the challenges we must face as Union. Globally, with 25 percent of greenhouse gas emissions produced coming from burning fossil fuels to create heat and electricity, 23 percent for industrial uses and 14 percent for transportation, the EU needs to find ways to generate resources for the EU budget which also support the energy transition.

It is clear that time is running out, we must not dither, we must all act together, as partners. If the green transition does not start in our cities, in our municipalities, it will not happen at all. If the EU is to rekindle trust among citizens, the Green Deal must succeed in starting the transformation of Europe.

EU regions and cities at COP25: we accelerate climate action.

Karl-Heinz Lambertz, president, European Committee of the Regions 

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