Here's how Europe plans to be the first climate-neutral continent
/7th February 2020, Sean Fleming, World Economic Forum/ By 2050, Europe wants to become the world’s first climate-neutral continent – that’s the key message in a series of goals and initiatives announced by the European Commission known as the European Green Deal. It aims to “transform the European Union into a fair and prosperous society, with a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy,” the Commission says. Among its timeline of objectives, the Commission has called for a 50% increase to the EU 2030 climate target, which currently calls for a 40% cut in greenhouse gas emissions and an increase in the use of renewable energy. In 2019 Europe saw a fall of almost one-fifth in the generation of coal-fired electricity – described by the climate change think tank Sandbag as the Great Coal Collapse of 2019. Addressing climate change is not just an environmental priority. As outlined in the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report, economic and social stability are at significant risk of disruption from climate-related problems.
The European Green Deal sets out how to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050, boosting the economy, improving people's health and quality of life, caring for nature, and leaving no one behind.
But some of the bloc’s activities may be causing more harm than is widely known. Support for agriculture has been central to Europe since 1957 with the creation of the European Economic Community – the forerunner to the EU – and the Common Agricultural Policy. The EU now pays out an estimated 37% of its total annual budget to farmers. According to a report from the New York Times, there are concerns that subsidizing farm production over the past 50-plus years has had devastating environmental impacts: “Decaying algae belches deadly gas onto beaches in northwestern France. Dwindling bird populations threaten the balance of entire ecosystems. Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture are on the rise. “And in the Baltic Sea, decades of farm runoff have helped create huge dead zones.”
As more member states have joined the EU and accessed those farming subsidies, many of the problems outlined above have grown worse. And maps showing areas of the worst affected areas of nitrate pollution correspond with areas receiving the highest subsidies, the Times article states. The EU says its agricultural policy supports farmers, ensures Europe’s food security and helps tackle climate change and the sustainable management of natural resources. And following a reform of the policy in 2013, “sustainable management of natural resources and climate action” are among its new core objectives.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has described the Green Deal as “Europe’s ‘man on the moon’ moment”. But not every member state is on board. The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland – all coal-reliant countries – want to win financial guarantees before backing the Green Deal. Even if Europe makes progress with its ambitious plans and hits its carbon-neutral goals, some still question the world’s commitment to the environment.
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