Editorial: The Guardian view on Europe’s green deal: stick to the plan

The cost and impact of coronavirus will imperil necessary action on the climate emergency. Towns and cities must use their collective imaginations to make a difference

A plan of Merwede, a car-free area residential district in Utrecht, designed to house 12,000 people. Photograph: Okra, marco.broekman

Difficult and almost impossibly daunting as it may seem, the world is faced with not one but two existential crises and two races against time: the coronavirus and the climate emergency. Dealing with both is going to require extraordinary focus and resolution.

Already there is a whiff of political opportunism in the air. Last week, the Czech prime minister, Andrej Babiš, said that the €1tn European Green Deal, unveiled and enshrined in law by the European commission barely three weeks ago, should be put to one side. Member states, he advised, should concentrate all resources on combating a pandemic which, one by one, is shutting down societies and economies. Along with other eastern European states such as Poland, the Czech government has been reluctant to acknowledge the scale of action required to combat global heating, which would have a severe impact on fossil fuel industries in their countries.

The extreme urgency of defeating Covid-19 scarcely needs stating. But Mr Babiš’s broader suggestion has been rightly rejected. “This is one of the very reasons why we presented the climate change law: to avoid that climate action, a generational task, is obfuscated by more pressing and immediate challenges,” said a Brussels spokesman. Frans Timmermans, the Dutch commissioner who is leading the EU response on the climate emergency, has made the same point.

Mr Timmermans has said that the climate law will act as a ‘“compass” for the next 30 years as EU member states seek sustainable forms of growth. In these extraordinary times, local imagination and creativity in developing a sustainable future will be at a premium. There are at least some hopeful signs that such thinking is taking place.

In the city of Utrecht, plans have been unveiled for the largest purpose-built pedestrianised residential area in Europe, which will attempt to harness the virtues of the sharing economy. The Merwede estate will house 12,000 people on a 60-acre site. Transport will be provided by bus and train networks and a shared pool of bikes and cars – one car for every three families. Schools, shops, sports and medical services will all be within walking distance, and water from the local canal will be used to heat the area. The intention is for the district to become close to energy neutral.

Utrecht is one of the fastest-growing cities in the Netherlands and is projected to add 100,000 people to its 350,000 population by 2040. In terms of factoring in a necessary environmental dimension to new construction, Merwede looks like best practice. It is the kind of project that is relatively small scale, but repeatable. It helps of course that the Dutch have a historically passionate relationship with the bicycle. But as the EU attempts to hold the line on implementing its green deal, many more Utrechts will be required. SOURCE

Europe has unveiled a plan to eliminate climate emissions by 2050

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission.

The European Union is forging ahead with a sweeping plan to become “climate neutral” by midcentury.

If implemented, the European Green Deal could mark a major advance in the effort to combat climate change, since EU members make up the third largest block of greenhouse-gas emitters behind China and the US. But it will require massive investments and rapid transformations across nearly every economic sector.

The details: A released document doesn’t provide many specifics on how nations will achieve these ambitious targets, but it lays out timetables for developing strategies to reach specific goals.

At various points next year, for instance, the European Commission plans to propose a binding European climate law; develop a plan to cut emissions 50% by 2030; create strategies for transforming the agriculture and transportation industries; and devise various funding mechanisms.

European leaders stress that the deal will strive to be “just and socially fair,” by providing support for people, businesses, and regions harmed by the rapid transition.

What’s next? The European Commission unveiled the plan on Wednesday, sending it on to additional government bodies for endorsement. The process hit a snag at the European Council, where Poland declined to commit to the 2050 goal.

But European leaders said they’ll press ahead with the plan, and the council said it will revisit Poland’s reservations in June.

Challenges: Building the amount of solar farms, wind turbines, and other sustainable infrastructure required to cut emissions in half within a decade will be extremely expensive. Meanwhile, there aren’t readily available tools to eliminate emissions from steel, cement, aviation, and agriculture at this point.   SOURCE

Green Deal branded as ‘hallmark’ of new European Commission

Frans Timmermans in Milan, 24 May 2019. [Photo: EPA-EFE/DANIEL DAL ZENNARO]

“I want the European Green Deal to become Europe’s hallmark,” said European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen, as she tasked her second-in-command with overseeing Europe’s goal of achieving climate neutrality by mid-century.

“At the heart” of von der Leyen’s new Commission “is our commitment to becoming the world’s first climate-neutral continent,” the incoming Commission chief said on Tuesday (10 September) as she presented her team and their respective portfolios.

The appointment of Frans Timmermans as Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal – as well as Climate Action Commissioner – was von der Leyen’s opening revelation as she unveiled her new team.

Climate neutrality “is a long-term economic imperative,” she stressed, saying “those who act first and fastest will be the ones who grasp the opportunities from the ecological transition.”

“I want Europe to be the front-runner. I want Europe to be the exporter of knowledge, technologies and best practice,” the new Commission chief said, introducing Timmermans as her second-in-conmmand.

Ursula von der Leyen

@vonderleyen

The European Green Deal has to become Europe’s hallmark. I want Europe to be the front-runner. I want Europe to be the exporter of knowledge, technologies and best practice.

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55% carbon reduction target

Timmermans, who is currently serving as first deputy to outgoing Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, will also be the Commission’s head of climate action, taking over duties from Spain’s Miguel Arias Cañete.

In a break with Juncker’s structure, the top officials will now have access to the services of the executive’s directorates-general. In Timmermans’ case, that is DG Clima.

“We need an ambitious Green New Deal for Europe, which shapes the future for our children and ensures their health, prosperity and security on a green and thriving planet,” the Dutchman tweeted, adding that he is “excited to work on this for the next five years”.

Von der Leyen has already made specific asks of Timmermans, outlining in her mission letter that she is entrusting him to fulfil a number of pledges she made during her campaign to secure the European Parliament’s blessing for her presidency.