A month after the European Commission presented its plan for a European Green Deal, the European Parliament adopted a nonbinding resolution supporting the Commission’s plan and demanding stronger climate targets, but ultimately falling short on providing a vision on how to get there.
The active involvement of MEPs in the European Green Deal is critical to its success. The very existence of a European Green Deal today is closely linked to the European Parliament. The surge of Green Parties during the last European elections had pushed then-candidate Ursula von der Leyen to include it as part of her platform. As Commission’s President, she came to present her plan to the Parliament in December. MEPs have also formed a Green New Deal intergroup to closely follow and participate in the process of developing the Green Deal. It is co-led by two freshwomen MEPs Alexandra Phillips (UK, Greens/European Free Alliance) and Aurore Lalucq (France, Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats). This is particularly important as the proposal the Commission presented is a general plan, but specific legislations will now need to be passed to convert the Green Deal into real actions.
The resolution was adopted by over two thirds of the MEPs. Throughout the whole document one can sense a desire to get a broad agreement, to please many parties, and the long hours of negotiations behind each paragraph. And reading it can prove to be challenging. The (long) text covers about every topic you can think of somehow related to the European Green Deal, ranging from smart mobility to agriculture, renewable energy, all the way to antimicrobial resistance, plastic waste and a unique Parliament’s location.
But while the resolution remains vague on many topics, it very clearly endorses the Commission’s proposal and demands faster and more ambitious climate action. In order to reach climate neutrality by 2050, the Parliament wants to see emissions reduced by 55% in 2030 compared to 1990, going beyond the proposal of the Commission of “at least 50% towards 55%.” To guide the transition, it also demands “an ambitious Climate Law with a legally binding domestic and economy-wide target for reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 at the latest, and intermediate EU targets for 2030 and 2040,” and supports the financial mechanisms presented by the Commission to finance the Green Deal.
The international component is, as is typical, relegated to the very end of the resolution and first approached under the lenses of trade. As the “world’s largest single market,” the resolution rightly highlights that the EU could have an impact on the global value chains. It also supports the “Commission’s intention to work on a WTO-compatible carbon border adjustment mechanism”. While this can sound a bit ironic after decades of exporting its emissions to countries with cheaper labor costs, it would be a welcome sign that the EU finally uses its market power to make the lives of working people around the world better and more respectful of social and environmental rights. To truly influence global trade, it is indeed urgent that the EU really takes into account sustainability and climate change as key conditions in any trade agreements.
The resolution does not spend much time on poorest populations who, while being the least responsible for climate change, will be the most impacted by its effects. It mentions efforts to pursue ‘Green Deal diplomacy’ as well as some wishful call to provide”additional financial and technical assistance to help developing countries with the green transition”, particularly for adaptation. So much more is needed to support developing countries to face climate emergency and to adopt low-carbon modes of development.
MEPs’ support for the European Green Deal and call for stronger action is encouraging. The resolution will strengthen the Commission’s proposal and put pressure on Europeans’ leaders to renegotiate climate targets as soon as possible ahead of COP26 that will be held next year in Glasgow, UK. However, for now, it is unclear how the Parliament’s resolution brings us toward a path compatible with higher climate ambition.
Meeting higher targets requires even more urgent action and concrete measures, right now. The resolution rightly recognizes that “net emissions will have to be reduced to close to zero in all sectors of the economy in order to jointly contribute to the objective of reaching climate neutrality.” But it fails to describe what path to follow to reach these targets. On all of the topics it covers, it seems to be calling for more of the same, improving existing systems and measures with a few adjectives added here and there to promote a new and greener future from “a more sustainable food policy” to a “ new sustainable growth” or “new green jobs.” And it overly focuses on environmental issues, which echo the Commission's decision to refer to its plan as a "European Green Deal" instead of the original "Green New Deal", de facto focusing it around the need to "green" the current system. The urgency of the social and climate crises calls for much deeper transformation of European’s economic, social and sectoral policies (particularly in the energy and agricultural sector).
Roosevelt’s original “New Deal” deeply transformed society in about every sector, and brought economic and social rights to the core. The “Green New Deal” presented in the US by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez does this as well. In the foreword to “A planet to win - Why we need a Green New Deal,” Naomi Klein reports that when activists pushing for the Green New Deal held a sit-in at the US Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi dismissed the proposal calling it a “Green Dream, or whatever”. This might be exactly what’s missing in the European proposal right now. Given the clouds of the many crises surrounding Europe and the urgency of the global climate crisis, a mobilizing proposal for full-scale economic, environmental, and social transformation could not be more imperative.