With the EU’s current budget for climate-related action set at 550 billion euros until 2027, or some 30 per cent of all funding, the bloc seems to be making good on its vow that the environment will be its signature issue – even in the face of armed conflict and severe economic challenges in Europe.
The EU and its 27 member countries are working on new common rules within the so-called ‘Fit for 55 Package’ to reduce the EU’s carbon footprint. The objective is to cut net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent by the end of the decade.
So what would a Europe be like with carbon-neutral cars, environmentally friendly steel and cement production, buildings that have zero emissions and planes that fly on sustainable fuels?
The most widely felt change will likely be in households. Under the new rules, Europeans could get nearly half of all their home energy from renewable sources ranging from solar, wind and hydroelectric power to geothermal energy. That clean energy produced in the EU from natural resources should be more affordable for residents while helping keep the air clean.
Another immediately obvious change will be cars pollute that less than before. The transition should be noticeable not for the sound it makes – but rather for the lack of it. Along streets and boulevards, silent electric vehicles will increasingly dominate the roadways.
Road vehicles are currently the biggest source of transport emissions in the EU, accounting for 71 per cent of the total. Vehicles powered by fossil fuels – petrol, diesel and gas – will continue to operate, but new cars with traditional internal combustion engines will be phased out.
According to the blueprint, by 2030 emissions from new cars and vans will on average drop by half compared to 2021. Five years later, they will have to be zero-emission. That means all new cars sold will either be electric or powered by a carbon-neutral fuel.
Another change might not be readily noticeable to the casual observer, but residents will certainly know. Ambitious energy efficiency standards for new residential and commercial buildings will mean they will have zero emissions by 2030 and will need energy performance certificates to prove it.
With buildings today responsible for over one-third of the greenhouse gases emitted in the EU, reducing emissions from buildings through either reduced energy consumption or increased use of renewable energy is seen as crucial. By the end of the decade new buildings will bristle with required solar energy panels and recharging points for e-bikes and electric cars.
Incentives will encourage owners of older buildings to retrofit their buildings to reach the ultimate goal of ensuring that all buildings in the EU are zero-emission by 2050. Other ways to save energy include renovations in buildings for better insulation, smart meters for utilities, improved monitoring and certification of energy systems.
Another change will not be apparent on the surface and not nearly as flashy as shiny electric cars or high-tech solar panels – yet it is crucial to reducing global warming.
EU legislation is providing financial incentives industries to reduce pollution with a plan that puts a price on CO2 emissions using a trading system for “carbon permits”. The number of permits made available each year will gradually be reduced, but the current initiative covers about 10,000 large plants involved in electricity and heat generation, oil refining, and steel and cement production.
Once an EU home of the near future is built with more efficiently made materials, it will be outfitted with conservation-minded appliances. Producing clean energy is only part of the battle – not wasting is also important.
Highly efficient refrigerators, washing machines and electric stoves are among the areas targeted by the EU legislation. Appliances are now rated and labeled by energy efficiency, consumption and even noise emissions. The initiative not only reduces CO2 but also drives down the monthly energy bills for end consumers.
Another big challenge for future Europe will be reducing the carbon footprint in air and marine transport. Air flights within the EU will continue to be included in the emissions trading system with a progressive reduction of allowances pushing airlines to further cut their emissions. Suppliers of aircraft fuel will be required to gradually increase the share of sustainable fuels they distribute.
Like aviation, the maritime sector predominantly uses fossil fuels so legislation encourages the use of more sustainable fuels, in particular for the largest ships that generate 90 per cent of all emissions in the maritime sector. Some exceptions will apply for fishing vessels.
The continent will not only be quieter due to less use of fossil fuel powered machinery, but it should be literally greener. Carbon sinks, as they are known, can absorb or physically remove carbon from the atmosphere. The EU plans to plant more trees and other greenery to naturally reduce the CO2 in the atmosphere. Together with technological solutions, those greenbelts will remove 25 percent more carbon than efforts underway today.
It is a crossroads for Europe and the planet. It could take the path of unchecked industrialisation, potentially leading to a dark and dystopian future, or it can take a more utopian turn toward a clean environment and sustainable lifestyle. Already a union conceived by those who dreamed of a better, even utopian future, the EU has made its decision.
It has set out an ambitious plan to a greener future. Other regions of the world should do likewise.