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Europe's green moment: How to meet the climate challenge
EU member states divided over how to reach net zero through European Green Deal, but breakthroughs possible on climate foreign policy, according to a new ECFR survey
New ECFR data shows Europeans are divided on climate, but there are clear pathways to underpin European engagement with climate geopolitics.
EU member states are publicly committed to the European Green Deal but are divided over the details of its implementation.
They have different views on issues such as the proposed carbon border adjustment mechanism, the role of nuclear energy in Europe’s future energy mix, bridging technologies in the transition to net zero, and the socio-economic consequences of closing down carbon-intensive industries.
Member states are not divided into two diametrically opposed camps but rather agree or disagree with one another in varying constellations.
This makes the implementation of the European Green Deal an intricate puzzle – yet achievable if coalitions of states push one another to implement its constituent parts.
The EU needs a strong foreign policy strategy to manage the geopolitical dimension of the Green Deal and to generate the political resolve to drive climate action.
The bloc also needs to mitigate the socio-economic challenges of implementing the European Green Deal if the effort is to succeed.
Europeans are divided over a range of issues in the European Green Deal, including the controversial carbon border adjustment mechanism and future role of nuclear energy. If EU member states are to meet the challenges in the ambitious implementation of the European Green Deal they will first need to understand one another’s differing approaches to climate issues.
This is the result of a major new report by Susi Dennison, Rafael Loss and Jenny Söderström from the European Council on Foreign Relation, called: “Europe’s green moment: How to meet the climate challenge”. It maps out the national politics of the European Green Deal using insights from public opinion polling in nine EU countries and expert surveys from 27 member states. The report also shows how policymakers can bring member states’ differing perspectives together to underpin strong European engagement with climate geopolitics.
No EU government can claim that climate change has taken it by surprise. However, some governments have been responding more quickly than others. There is a range of thinking across member states about the (national) challenges and risks in the implementation of the European Green Deal.
Socio-economic challenges and risks: The most prevalent concern – apparent in 19 member states – comes from socio-economic challenges such as the prospect of rising unemployment caused by the closure of carbon-intensive industries. Socio-economic factors also feature as the biggest perceived risks associated with the green deal, with 15 countries worrying about higher costs for energy and 10 countries about declining living standards.
Both opposition and support from industry and business community: Predictably, 11 countries also face opposition to the European Green Deal from companies. This is because carbon-intensive industries are forced to fundamentally change their production models, invest in new technologies, or – in some cases, such as coal power – close down.
National governments’ willingness and capacity: Other major domestic challenges are linked to national governments’ willingness and capacity to implement the European Green Deal. In 11 countries, a lack of political will is an obstacle to the green transition. States in this category include those with relatively limited ambitions on climate and those aspiring to be European champions, such as Poland and France respectively.
Geopolitical risks: 12 member states see geopolitical risks in the European Green Deal. They are concerned that their strategically important industries will be overtaken by greener competitors in other member states or further afield. Meanwhile, eight countries worry that the green transition could create new energy dependencies in relation to areas ranging from imports of Russian gas to negative reactions to the carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM), to dependence on imports of green technology from China.
Divided climate leaders: A group of 21 states including EU heavyweights such as Germany, France, and Sweden disagree on how they should reach net zero through the European Green Deal. There are significant divisions between them on, for example, the role of nuclear energy in the continent’s future energy mix and the desirability of the CBAM. Member states have vehemently debated both issues with one another and within EU institutions.
Lack of debate in EU states: One of the biggest challenges that ECFR’s survey throws up comes from the fact that the narrative on EU leadership on climate action has not yet hit home in member states. More than half of the respondents in the survey said that there is no debate on the European Green Deal in the national media. For such a high-level priority of Ursula von der Leyen’s European Commission, this is disappointing.
All member states have a role to play in the EU’s implementation of the agreement. If they fail to do so, each of them will simply persist with its own interpretation of what climate action should look like. Therefore, the paper presents pathways to underpin European engagement with climate geopolitics.
The European Council should adapt the model of Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) on security to address the climate challenge. This would enable member states to opt into the areas where they can share best practice with one another, or where they feel a need to make progress domestically.
The EU should urgently develop a coherent foreign policy strategy for the European Green Deal. As many member states are preoccupied with this dimension of the agreement, the EU is heading towards a big obstacle on the CBAM proposal in particular.
To mitigate the socio-economic challenges of implementing the European Green Deal it will be critical to create the right narrative. The EU and its member states need to broaden the narrative around the green transformation, aiming to communicate that it could have many benefits for quality of life and the economy in individual regions and countries without replicating old inequalities.
“The climate agenda may be challenging, but the EU needs to deliver on it. The bloc has nailed its colours to the mast in publishing the European Green Deal. And, given the level of expectation around its actions on the climate challenge, the EU would damage public faith in both European cooperation and political leaders’ commitments to the green transition if it abandoned its ambitions”, Susi Dennison emphasises.
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