Recent EU political agenda is aimed at highlighting sustainability in national political economy to a new level: including, in particular, climate mitigation measures (to reach for a climate-neutral EU by 2050) and the “green deal” package; both are forcing the member states to be more active in approving corresponding actions. The EU states governance’s tasks are becoming more complicated and diverse in priorities, as modern decision-making requires new approaches to political economy’s perspectives in line with the new facets in the European integration.
The present term of the Commission’s colleague is facing several political priorities, including the following four main divided into two blocks: a) the digital transition and climate change actions (the member states have to devote about 60 percent of their budgets for these two challenges), and b) measures for sustainability and “green” transition. Both the EU institutions and the member states’ governance are busy enough in dealing with these priorities in the decision-making processes.
Contemporary complications in dealing with all four priorities at the national governance level are concentrated in the fact that these priorities are inherently interchanges: in numerous measures the digital transition is based on sustainability while climate change actions and being part of a green transition.
The decision-makers in the EU institutions and the states are already following some approved practical measures to mitigate the growth’s negative effect on European, global and the states’ climate “abnormalities”. These measures – most probably different among the EU states – are supposed to have something in common: i.e. reduction of industrial, manufacturing and household’s pollution, as well as including adequate measures towards clean air and water, nature protection and sustainability; in general, it is all about reducing human encroachment into the extensive use of natural resources. Numerous development activities at the national level, such as agriculture, ranching, hydroelectric construction, urbanization, logging, oil extraction and mining, to name a few are replacing earth’s original biomes with the anthropogenic and humans’ dominate one. Thus, already over three-forth of the earth’s land has already been altered, leaving only 23 percent to wilderness.
Double initiative – double responsibilities
Modern EU measures: the green deal and the climate regulations are supposed to turn the member states’ climate policies, the use of natural resources and environmental regulations into effective and optimal governance for a perspective green-climate transition. Therefore, the EU’s guidelines in this regard are becoming an integral part of the decision-making and practical actions in the states: according to the Commission’s priorities for the next five years, the key national objectives shall be oriented towards:
- proper environmental policies that enable the creation/transformation of the existing industrial development along sustainable principles;
- using modern digital technologies to reduce transport pollution, constructing/renovating residential “smart houses” and more efficient/smarter working facilities. For example, digital services and technologies are already widely used in the EU states; they are becoming more progressive: e.g. new 5G-based networking can “re-configure” the data-centers and telecom’s networks (to allow the ICT-users to have trustful, secure and transparent operation systems).
- the European “climate law” sets both the 2050 target and the directions for the member states’ policies, as well as guidelines for public authorities and businesses aimed at reaching zero greenhouse gas emissions (ZGGE) by 2050; in this way, the EU member states’ authorities will be bound by taking necessary measures to meet the desired target.
Historically, the EU set out its first vision for a climate-neutral Europe-2050 in November 2018; that was inspired by the Paris Climate Conference objectives (2015-16) to keep the global temperature below 2°C and pursue efforts to keep it to 1.5°C. The climate-neutral strategy was followed by the Commission’s “green deal”, which was made public in mid-December 2019; the European Parliament endorsed the EU’s ZGGS objectives in mid-March 2019 and in December 2019 the European Council officially approved these objectives.
The essence of the “green deal” and the climate pact is the European and the member states’ new growth strategies that would transform their economies into modern, resource-efficient and competitive. The following three socio-economic parameters shall be included: a) elimination of net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050; b) de-coupling the economic growth from fossil-fuel’s resources, and c) inclusive aspects in policies, where “no person and no place is left behind”.
More on the EU long-term climate strategy in: https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/strategies/2050_en; on the “green deal” in: https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024/european-green-deal_en
European climate legislation
In the double “green-climate” strategies, the EU climate regulations are regarded as the so-called “legal transposition instrument” of the European political commitment towards the European green deal and member states’ sustainable development. The Commission noticed that the climate law’s introduction in March 2020 was supposed to offer “predictability and transparency for European industry and investors”, while providing directions to the member states’ green growth strategies.
So-called EU’s “climate law package” includes measures to keep track of progress and adjust member states’ actions based on the introduced governance process in the states’ National Energy and Climate Plans, as well as the regular reports by the European Environment Agency, and the latest global scientific evidence on climate change and its impacts; progress in “adjustments” will be reviewed every five years, in line with the global account measures.
Based on a comprehensive impact assessment, the Commission proposed new 2030 EU targets for zero greenhouse gas emission reductions, ZGGER. In June 2021, the Commission reviewed and revised relevant policy instruments to achieve the additional emission reductions for 2030. The greenhouse gas emission reductions will be constantly measured providing for progress and predictability in governance’s efforts for businesses and citizens.
By September 2023, and every five years thereafter, the Commission will assess the consistency of the national measures with the climate-neutrality objective and the 2030-2050 trajectory.
Then the Commission will issue recommendations to the member states whose actions are inconsistent with the climate-neutrality objective; these states will be obliged to take due account of these recommendations or to explain their reasoning if they fail to do so.
The EU states will also be required to develop and implement adaptation strategies to strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability to the effects of climate change.
Source: press release in https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/statement_20_381
The outcomes of the Commission’s March 2020 public consultations on the European climate pact were used to shape the “climate pact”, which was presented at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in November 2020 (COP-26). Since then, the Commission started publication of the inception impact assessments on the future Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, CBAM and the review of the energy taxation directive; both are two most important policy instruments under the European green deal transition.
In addition, the Commissioners adopted a proposal to designate 2021 as the European Year of Rail to support the delivery of the “green deal” in the transport sector, e.g. in increasing passenger and freight use of the rail network.
In 2021 the Commission published the “Fit for 55” package, which will enable the member states to reach the EU climate targets in a just and socially fair way. The package is an integral part of the European Green Deal; following the adoption of the European Climate Law in early 2021, the Fit for 55 package makes the EU legislation and policies more effectively lead to reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent by 2030, compared to 1990 levels, paving the way towards climate neutrality by 2050. For the member states’ governance it is becoming an obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protect and restore biodiversity and tackle climate change.
To be ‘Fit for 55’, all states, businesses and households must each play their role in the stepping up the “transition to zero” policies; e.g. the Equinor is already stepping up the transition process in the company and by 2030, it expects to increase investments in renewables and low carbon solutions to more than 50% of gross annual investments.
More on other important issues in the Commission’s web-links:
On the energy taxation revision directive in: https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/better-regulation/have-your-say/initiatives/12227-Revision-of-the-Energy-Tax-Directive
On the European Year of Rail in: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_364
Sustainability and environmental aspects in the EU’s political economy’s vision to optimal integrational perspectives are closely connected to the energy saving issues. In this regard, the ecodesign and energy labeling are aimed at improve products’ energy efficiency on the EU market: they set common EU-wide minimum standards to eliminate the least performing products from the consumers. For example, energy labels provide a clear and simple indication of the energy efficiency and other key features of products at the point of purchase. This makes it easier for consumers to save money on their household energy bills and contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions across the EU.
The EU legislation for energy labels and ecodesign has been estimated to bring energy savings of approximately 230 Mtoe (million tons of oil equivalent) by 2030. For consumers, this means an average saving of up to €285 per year on their household energy bills. Moreover, energy efficiency measures will create €66 billion in extra revenue for European companies.
The EU institutions have been developing more energy efficient products: hence, the difference between A++ and A+++ is been less obvious to consumers (see table below). The EU energy labels categories will be gradually adjusted to reintroduce the simpler A to G scale: e.g. a product showing an A+++ energy efficiency class could become a class B or lower after rescaling without any change in its energy consumption. The class A will initially be empty to leave room for more energy efficient models to be developed. In concrete terms, this means that 5 product groups will be ‘rescaled’ in 2021: -fridges and freezers; -dishwashers; – washing machines; – televisions, and –lamps.
After a long consultation process, in October 2019, the Commission has taken an unprecedented effort in adopting 10 eco-design implementing regulations, setting out energy efficiency and other requirements for the house-hold appliances and products, such as refrigerators, washing and dish-washing machines, electronic displays (including televisions), light sources and separate control gears, external power supplies, electric motors, refrigerators (as well as vending machines for cold drinks), power transformers, etc.
In the continued efforts towards low-carbon solutions in national growth and reducing the states’ carbon footprint and to make energy bills cheaper for European consumers, Commission adopted also new eco-designs for products such as refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers and televisions. Improving the ecodesign of products contributes to implementing the ‘Energy efficiency first’ principle of the EU’s energy sector’s priorities. For the first time in the EU’s history, the measures include requirements for reparability and recyclability, contributing to circular economy objectives by improving the life span, maintenance, re-use, upgrade, recycling and waste handling of all house-appliances.
On Commission’s priorities in: https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024
The Commission constantly underlined that the “intelligent eco-design” by e.g. fostering reparability and/or recyclability, makes the use of existing resources more efficiently, bringing clear economic and environmental benefits: present data shows that that kind of measures can save the households in Europe about €150 per year and contribute to energy savings equal to annual energy consumption in such a state as Denmark by 2030. It is with such concrete steps the member states can embrace the circular economy concepts for the benefit of business, citizens and environmental quality.
Both “smarter energy labels” and eco-design measures can save European consumers a lot of money and help the states reduce greenhouse gas emissions: thus, eco-design is becoming a key element in the states efforts in combating climate change and serve as a direct contribution to meeting the global goals in sustainability; besides, as the EU is moving towards a long-term goal of a fully decarbonised economic development by 2050, the energy efficiency and eco-design strategies are becoming ever more important.
Commenting on the adoption of the eco-design measures, the European Consumer Association argued that the new repair requirements would help to improve the lifetime of home-appliances that currently fail too quickly. It added that businesses and customers have to “turn-around current throwaway trend”, which both depletes natural resources and is costly to consumers. So far, the EU started with five products that most consumers use at home; the Commission strongly encourages the states to make more product categories repairable.
The European home industry appliance association acknowledges that the new and ambitious ecodesign requirements on improving resource efficiency are a tool to ensure that all actors play by the same rules and advance the EU “circular culture’s” concept, provided that market surveillance authorities could resolve new difficulties in verifying the compliance with the EU laws. On the “circular culture” in: https://www.circularappliances.eu/
The European Environmental Citizens Organization, ECOS and the EEB (European Environmental Bureau commented that the ecodesign represents a EU-wide success story in terms of energy savings and “new repair ability of products”; by giving the citizens the right to repair used products, they therefore support circular economy’s decisions.
The Commission estimates that above mentioned measures, together with the recent energy labels, will deliver 167 TWh of final energy savings per year by 2030, which corresponds to a reduction of over 46 million tons of CO2 equivalent; these measures can save the member states’ households on average €150 per year. These savings come on top of those achieved by the existing eco-design and energy label requirements, which are already delivering yearly energy savings of about 150 Mtoe (million tons of oil equivalent) in 2020, roughly equivalent to the annual primary energy consumption of Italy. For consumers, this already means an average saving of up to €285 per year on their household energy bills.
Note: more information on eco-design issues in the following web-links: – Question & Answers; – energy labeling and ecodesign; on the energy efficiency first principle of the Energy Union strategy (October 2019), see Commission press release at: https://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-19-5895_en.htm?locale=en