The European Green Deal’s ambition to reach carbon neutrality by 2050

General Background

We have lived in a society which, in the past, has been careless of the environment and the consequences of our actions can be clearly noticeable today, from the world-known “Global Warming” issue to the shortage of energy-producing resources. Moreover, air pollution levels remain dangerously high in many parts of the world, causing an estimated seven million people to die worldwide every year.

What is causing all of this?

The cause of air pollution is attributed to the increase in the abundance of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The most significant greenhouse gases are water vapour (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). These gases are released both by a natural process, which is called the greenhouse effect (see below), and from human activities such as car emissions.

In short, the greenhouse effect is a natural process that warms the Earth’s surface. When the Sun’s energy reaches the Earth’s atmosphere, some of it is reflected back to space and the rest is absorbed and re-radiated by greenhouse gases.

While the greenhouse effect can be considered a natural process, the drastic increase of these gases over the past decades is extremely threatening. (1)

Burning of fossil fuels  

In almost all of this increase over the last 150 years is attributable to human activities. In fact, research has shown that from 1990 to 2015, the warming effect caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions increased by 37%. (2)

The largest source of greenhouse gas emissions is fossil fuels which are burnt for the production of energy.

But what are exactly fossil fuels?

Fossil fuels are a result of geologic processes acting on the remains of organic matter, a process which occurred billions years ago. Fossil fuels, such as coal and petroleum, are cheap, easy to extract, and are rich in carbon, which, when burned, releases a big amount of energy. (3)

However, fossil fuel energy has two main issues. Fossil fuels are finite, that is, they are a limited resource which cannot be used forever. Secondly, as mentioned earlier, fossil energy causes a sharp rise in greenhouse gasses.

Got the point? There is no way out. One day or another in the near future, we will have to stop relying on them, as the natural finite resources will eventually run out (predicted to happen by 2060). Seeing the harmful effects on human health, it could be also beneficial to stop their use for this reason. (4)

How can renewable energy solve this problem?

All of this was a bit upsetting huh? Now let’s talk about a possible solution!

Well, in reality there are tons of solutions and with the rapid innovation of technology more will likely come up in the future, but for now we are only going to discuss the safest and most efficient solution: renewable resources.

Renewable energy, often referred to as clean energy, comes from natural sources or processes that are constantly replenished. These include, for example, sunlight, wind, and waves. Most importantly, renewable energy is unlimited.

In 2019, renewable energy sources accounted for about 34% of gross electricity consumption in Europe. But during the first half of 2020,renewable sources generated more energy than fossil fuels for the first time ever! The country generating the most renewable energy is Denmark, having generated around 64% of its energy from these renewable sources. (5)

A typical wind farm

However, renewable energy does have some negative impacts on the environment.

For example, several birds have died as a result of collisions with wind turbines and air pressure changes caused by spinning turbines, according to a new study by the National Wind Coordinating Committee (NWCC). Moreover, the environmental impacts associated with solar power can include land use and habitat loss, water use, and the use of hazardous materials in manufacturing. (6)

How is transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energies possible?

The demand of sustainable product is increasing every single year.

For example, electric car deployment has been growing rapidly over the past ten years, with the global stock of electric passenger cars passing 5 million in 2018, an increase of 63% from the previous year. (7)

And this is exactly where the European Green Deal comes into play…

The European Green Deal

The EU plan to reduce carbon emissions in Europe

The European Union (EU) is among the leading major economies when it comes to tackling greenhouse gas emissions. The European Green Deal, first presented on 11 December 2019, is Europe’s first and biggest sustainability plan. The Green Deal is Europe’s plan to make the EU’s economy sustainable by the next few decades.

Specifically, the European Green Deal is promising to achieve zero net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050 with the help of every single country that is part of the European Union. Succeeding in this plan would mean zero to minimal pollution, affordable secure energy, smarter transport and high quality food.

An impact assessed plan will also be presented to increase the EU’s greenhouse gas emission reductions target for 2030 to at least 50% and towards 55% compared to 1990 levels. (8)

The European Green Deal Investment Plan

By the next decade, the EU has planned to mobilise at least €1 trillion in sustainable investments.

How will Europe manage to collect all these money in just 10 years? Well, let’s take a look at the actual plan:

  • The EU will provide €503 billion over the period 2021-2027.
  • Additional national co-financing will issue €144 billion between the years 2021-2027.
  • The InvestEU programme will leverage around €279 billion of private and public investments over the period 2021-2030.
  • The Just Transition Mechanism will mobilise at least €100 billion over 2021-2027.
  • Lastly, the Innovation and Modernisation funds will provide some €25 billion for the Green Deal.

These are indeed huge amounts of money…The good news are that investing in zero-carbon emissions will return approximately €20 trillion by 2050. (9)

How will the European countries be affected by the plan?

The Green Deal will certainly affect the most vulnerable coal and carbon intensive regions by making them shift to a totally new way of life.

However, the huge investments from the EU will give investors confidence to make long term decisions on environmentally responsible projects. This will mean new jobs, a cleaner environment and a better quality of life for everyone.

The EU is also promoting Green jobs. These are decent jobs that contribute to preserve or restore the environment, be they in traditional sectors such as manufacturing and construction, or in new, emerging green sectors such as renewable energy and energy efficiency.

What about Malta in particular?

The European Green Deal is a big challenge for Malta to reduce emissions and replace fossil fuel energy with renewable energy.

Malta’s emissions to air exceed permitted emissions at over 3 million tons of CO2 emitted per year and rising. These are caused principally by heating, cooling and transport. (10)

Therefore, Malta will need to tackle these three factors first before moving on to other things such as production, consumption, agriculture, waste management and construction practices.

Moreover, improving the sustainability of the country will also improve the quality of life of the Maltese citizens and will lead to new business opportunities and a stronger, self-sufficient economy.

Will the European Green Deal survive COVID-19?

With the world economy expected to shrink by 3% and the euro area by 7% in 2020 because of Covid-19, the European Green Deal may not be the EU’s most immediate priority, but nevertheless, the long-term climate challenges are here to stay. (11)

The European Commission’s attention may currently be focused on addressing the COVID-19 crisis in its health, economic and social dimensions, but the environment and climate crisis cannot be neglected. The pandemic’s impact on our health, societies and economies is profound and long-lasting. However, this difficult moment offers us an opportunity to lay the groundwork for a new normal with resilience, fairness and sustainability at its core. (12)

The EU will therefore need to find a way of preserving its roadmap to meet long-term climate objectives, even if it means tweaking the timeline of certain proposals, and to also find the financial resources to bring the economy back on track.

By Alessandro Baldoni

Sources:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fossil_fuel
  2. https://www.environment.gov.au/climate-change/climate-science-data/climate-science/greenhouse-effect#:~:text=The%20greenhouse%20effect%20is%20a,re%2Dradiated%20by%20greenhouse%20gases.
  3. https://www.epa.gov/climate-indicators/greenhouse-gases#:~:text=An%20increase%20in%20the%20atmospheric,atmosphere%20increased%20by%2037%20percent.
  4. https://octopus.energy/blog/when-will-fossil-fuels-run-out/#:~:text=If%20we%20keep%20burning%20fossil,will%20be%20depleted%20by%202060.
  5. https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Renewable_energy_statistics#:~:text=In%202019%2C%20renewable%20energy%20sources,sources%20(35%20%25%20each). 
  6. https://www.altenergymag.com/article/2015/08/the-dark-side-of-renewable-energy-negative-impacts-of-renewables-on-the-environment/20963/#:~:text=The%20most%20negative%20impact%20of,forest%2C%20wildlife%2C%20and%20land.
  7. https://www.amakella.com/from-fossil-fuel-to-renewable-energy/
  8. https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/qanda_20_24
  9. https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024/european-green-deal_en
  10. https://www.viva-city.com/blog/2020/2/6/the-european-green-deal-the-implications-for-malta.
  11. https://mbb.org.mt/media/will-the-european-green-deal-survive-covid-19/
  12. https://www.maltachamber.org.mt/en/greening-the-bloc-the-eu-s-green-deal