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What is European climate change mitigation and environmental protection policy all about? And what goals has Germany set itself within the scope of its Presidency of the Council of the EU? Here is an overview.

What does the EU do to protect the environment and mitigate climate change?

The EU’s most important climate change mitigation instrument is its emissions trading scheme, which obliges energy companies and industry to acquire pollution rights in the form of certificates for every tonne of greenhouse gas emissions they cause. The overall number of these certificates is reduced year by year, which is an effective incentive to save energy and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

The EU operates a system of burden sharing, obliging member states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the traffic, buildings and agriculture sectors too, in order to achieve the common reduction target set out in the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Other EU climate change mitigation instruments include, for instance, guidelines on CO2 limits for vehicles, energy efficiency in buildings, and the Ecodesign Directive with energy standards and mandatory labelling for products such as household appliances.

In the field of environmental protection, the EU works to make future consumption more environmentally-friendly, for instance by banning single-use plastics.

It also has guidelines for water quality, solid waste management, nature conservation and air quality.

What does climate neutrality mean for the EU?

By 2050, Europe is to be the first climate neutral continent. Climate neutrality means emitting so little in the way of greenhouse gases that no additional stress is placed on the atmosphere. The emission of greenhouse gases can be offset, for instance, if they can be absorbed by forests. It is also conceivable that the gases could be sequestered and stored.

The goal of greenhouse gas neutrality is laid out in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. Recently the European Commission has proposed reducing emissions by a minimum of 55 per cent of the 1990 levels by 2030.

What is behind the European Green Deal?

The European Green Deal is at the heart of European efforts to achieve sustainability. It combines climate change mitigation, environmental protection and biodiversity conservation with social justice and economic growth.

The main challenges to be achieved by 2030 are:

  • Making progress on CO2-free steel production
  • Accelerating decarbonisation in the aerospace and automobile sectors
  • Creating a European industrial framework for climate- and biodiversity-friendly materials and products.

With the help of this strategy, the EU aims to ensure an end to net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

What climate and environmental policy goals has Germany set itself within the framework of its Presidency of the Council of the European Union?

On 1 July 2020 Germany took over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, which it will hold until 31 December 2020. Over this period Germany aims to

  • Finalise negotiations in the Environment Council for an EU Climate Law, designed to achieve a climate neutral EU by 2050
  • Implement the EU Biodiversity Strategy for a healthy natural environment
  • Harness digitalisation for environmental protection and innovation.

What is the EU Climate Law?

The EU Climate Law lays out the long-term roadmap for achieving climate neutrality by 2050 in all policy areas in a way that is socially equitable and cost-efficient. It comprises emission reductions, investment in climate-friendly technology and environmental protection. That will only work if all EU policy fields help achieve the goal and if all branches of industry and sections of society do their bit. In this way, Europe is acting as trailblazer in the field of climate action. This week, EU environment ministers will come together in Berlin for an informal meeting, which is important for achieving agreement on a European Climate Law.

What is the Biodiversity Strategy for 2030?

Under the Biodiversity Strategy, the EU is investing 20 billion euros in biodiversity to counter species loss. The funding is to be used to increase organic farming, restore degraded ecosystems and plant three billion trees by 2030. The use of hazardous pesticides is to be reduced by 50 per cent by 2030. 

Did you know that half of the world’s GDP (some 40 trillion euros) depends on the natural environment?

What is meant by sustainable digitalisation?

The EU is to be a trailblazer in the field of sustainable digitalisation. In concrete terms, this means that digitalisation itself is to be environmentally- and climate-friendly so that it does not accelerate climate change. In this way, digital technology can be used to protect the environment, mitigate climate change and conserve natural resources.

One aspect is the interconnection of different means of transport – from bike to train, to carsharing and then back on the bike. In agriculture too, and with regard to the energy consumption of computing centres, intelligent networking can save resources. It is also about the environmentally-friendly design and responsible use of artificial intelligence.

How is Germany’s Presidency itself organised in a climate neutral way?

The German Government respects the principle of climate-friendly action. Firstly, emissions should be avoided. If they cannot be avoided they should be reduced, and then offset. The government aligns its actions with the criteria laid down by the Federal Ministry for the Environment. They cover the selection of venues, waste management, catering and the travel options for guests to the venue. All unavoidable greenhouse gas emissions caused by participants’ travel and by the events themselves are offset.

How will the EU make the pandemic recovery fund climate-friendly?

30 per cent of total spending under the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) and Next Generation EU are to be used for climate-related projects. Spending under the MFF and the Next Generation EU are to be aligned with the EU’s target of achieving climate neutrality by 2050, with the EU’s climate goals for 2030 and with the Paris Agreement.