The European Green Deal has been at the centre of European policy ever since it was announced in December 2019 as the first priority of Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission. The European Green Deal is a comprehensive set of measures aiming at making Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050.
The European Green Deal provides a great opportunity to support a sustainable recovery for Europe and enhance its competitiveness while making it more resource-efficient and climate-neutral. However, in order to make the Green Deal successful, the approach has to be balanced, targeted and most importantly, bottom-up.
First and foremost, the European Green Deal has to be bottom-up. As combating climate change means we have to rethink our way of life completely, ownership by citizens is key. Therefore, the Green Deal cannot be successful without the necessary support and collaboration of local and regional authorities and communities.
According to the United Nations Development Programme, more than 70% of climate change mitigation and up to 90% of climate change adaptation measures are undertaken by local and regional authorities. In addition, cities and regions are responsible for more than 65% of climate and environment-related public investment.
Several regions and cities across Europe have already adopted Local Green Deals or energy transition plans and have integrated the Sustainable Development Goals into their long-term strategies. However, their input and contributions are seldom reflected in national plans drawn up in EU capitals.
Taking all this into account, the best way to ensure that the Green Deal becomes the best possible tool to support the EU’s objective of climate neutrality is to take all levels of governments on board and to recognise the decisive role of local and regional authorities in accelerating climate action.
The European Committee of the Regions, the EU’s political assembly representing one million locally elected representatives, demands that cities and regions be fully involved in the design and implementation of national plans related to the Green Deal, including the COVID-19 National Recovery and Resilience Plans, and be provided with easier and direct access to EU funds.
The second key factor to make the Green Deal a success is a targeted approach. All themes that the EU Green Deal encompasses – renovation of buildings, clean air, circular economy, digital transition and sustainable farming, to name just a few, provide fertile ground for cost-effective integration of new and existing plans across sectors.
The Green Deal must prioritise sectors with higher potential for job-creation and focus on measures that allow for greater reduction of carbon emissions at lower costs, while taking into account local circumstances and different energy mixes. One of the first sectors that falls under this category is renovation and energy efficiency in housing and other buildings. With buildings accounting for 40% of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU, the Renovation Wave initiative will give a boost to the current renovation rate of public and private buildings and secure funding for greener and more energy efficient hospitals, schools and other public buildings.
But involving cities and regions more actively in the decision-making process and implementation of targeted priority sectors is not sufficient to guarantee successful implementation of the European Green Deal. We also need a third element. The Green Deal has to be balanced and take due account of the various economic and social situations in every territory, their different starting points as well as the asymmetric impact of the pandemic.
This implies adopting a flexible approach towards targets, considering the contribution each region or country can afford, and rewarding those who do more in order to bridge the emissions gap. A one-size-fits-all policy approach will simply not work.
Once implemented, the Green Deal must be monitored. When local actions are not measured, they are not valued and tend to be overlooked. Therefore, we need to develop a set of indicators to assess Green Deal implementation and monitor progress on legislation, policies and financing at regional, metropolitan and local level.
To this end, I believe that a ‘European Regional Scoreboard’ should be developed as an instrument to drive the recovery. Such indicators could also serve as a knowledge tool to help represent the diversity of territories’ needs, and identify and replicate best practices.
It is of the utmost importance to enhance and deepen programmes for exchange, cooperation and knowledge-sharing between administrations at different levels so to be able to move forward taking into account the reality checks already performed by others.
The European Green Deal can inspire similar policies and actions and provide a model for ambitious, cross-sector solutions to tackle climate change at the global level.
The only way we can achieve a sustainable and climate-neutral Europe is by guaranteeing open and structured consultative processes across all levels of government, as well as by equipping regions and cities with the appropriate tools to drive the green recovery forward.
Andries Gryffroy is member of the Flemish Parliament and rapporteur of a European Committee of the Regions opinion on the Green Deal, to be adopted at the next CoR plenary session on 8, 9, and 10 December 2020.