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The United States? Probably not.
How about the world’s fourth largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter, the European Union (EU)? Can this group of 27 unique and distinct European countries be the world’s much needed climate crisis hero?
Let’s dig in.
The EU has set its sights on becoming the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050, with several member countries, including Finland, Austria, Germany, and Sweden, aiming for even earlier targets such as 2045. To help achieve this ambitious goal, the EU has launched the European Green Deal, committing to utilize one-third of the €1.8 trillion investments from the NextGenerationEU Recovery Plan. Funding for the European Green Deal will also be provided through the EU’s seven-year budget.
In its pursuit of aggressive climate action, the EU has introduced a comprehensive set of proposals collectively known as ‘Fit for 55.‘ These initiatives aim to align the EU’s climate, energy, transport, and taxation policies with the objective of reducing net GHG emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. Additionally, the bloc has set an ambitious target to plant an additional 3 billion trees by 2030.
Responding to geopolitical challenges, specifically Russia’s violent invasion of Ukraine, the EU implemented the REPowerEU plan. This strategy has not only enhanced energy efficiency but has also bolstered clean energy production and diversified energy sources within the EU. As a result, the EU has reduced its reliance on Russian fossil fuels.
The EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) stands as one of the world’s largest carbon markets, encompassing 1.8 billion tonnes of emissions annually. Since its inception in 2005, the EU ETS has played a pivotal role in decreasing emissions from the power sector by a significant 43%. Furthermore, Germany has established their own national ETS. Additionally, countries such as Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Ireland, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden have introduced national carbon taxes to bolster their climate efforts.
In a recent development, the EU has rolled out its Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM). This innovative approach entails imposing a carbon tariff on imported carbon-intensive products like aluminum, cement, iron and steel, electricity, hydrogen, and fertilizers. CBAM’s primary purpose is to counter carbon leakage from countries lacking a carbon pricing mechanism. The pricing of CBAM certificates will be linked to the price of EU allowances under the EU ETS, and it is set to take effect in 2026, with reporting obligations commencing in 2023.
In other recent news, the EU is taking a strong stance against ‘greenwashing,’ aiming to combat misleading advertisements and provide consumers with accurate product information. Under the new rules, claims like “environmentally friendly,” “natural,” “biodegradable,” “climate-neutral,” or “eco” will be banned unless proof is provided that can verify the claim. These measures are aimed at enhancing transparency and credibility in environmental marketing.
Despite all of this impressive action, the EU confronts substantial challenges amid its climate ambitions. Economic disparities among member states, each at varying stages of development, present a significant hurdle. The task of forging consensus on climate policies and ensuring that all states meet their climate objectives is formidable. The intricate process of transitioning to a low-carbon energy system is further complicated by nations like Poland and Hungary, heavily reliant on coal, which often resist progressive initiatives, while maintaining essential energy security. Effective political coordination among a multitude of member states is vital but can be entangled by divergent national interests. Moreover, as a regional entity, the EU faces the intricate web of international relations in its endeavor to establish global climate leadership.
In conclusion, the EU possesses many qualities that make it a potential climate superhero. Its ambitious goals, investments in renewable energy, and commitment to international diplomacy are commendable. However, its success in assuming this crucial role hinges on its ability to address challenges related to economic disparities, energy transition, political coordination, and global leadership.
Although this edition concludes our quest for a climate hero, it’s clear that the analysis could continue. Some unexpected players, like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, significantly tied to fossil fuels, have committed impressive resources to low-carbon energy systems in recent months. India, with its vast population and growing economy, presents an intriguing case. While the United Kingdom briefly held the climate mantle, recent rollbacks under conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak have tempered its hero status. Brazil, led by President Lula, is back in the game with invigorated energy. California, under Governor Gavin Newsom’s leadership, has emerged as a frontrunner in the battle against the climate crisis. With its substantial economy, innovation, and progressive policies, the state could arguably be considered a climate hero contender.
The takeaway is simple – many countries, states, or unions have shown flashes of climate leadership, but none have ascended to the status of a superhero. The world yearns for a true champion, and perhaps the forthcoming COP28 will unveil the climate hero we so desperately need.
It reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite movies. Lieutenant James Gordon states in reference to Batman, in The Dark Knight: “He is a hero – not the hero we deserved, but the hero we needed.”
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