Blog Post

Elections must put Europe on a path to a green future

We are at a pivotal moment for the future of Europe. It is an opportunity to reflect on the fundamental values and visions underlying the European project, and on the future direction of this common journey. Climate change should be at the centre of this reflection.

By: Date: May 8, 2019 Topic: Energy & Climate

On May 9th, European leaders will convene in Sibiu, Romania, for an informal European Council meeting aimed at discussing a new strategic agenda for the institutional cycle (2019-2024) that will follow the European elections of the end of May. With two weeks remaining until the vote, this summit takes place at a pivotal moment for the future of Europe. It is an opportunity to reflect on the fundamental values and visions underlying the European project, and on the future direction of this common journey.

Climate change should be at the centre of this reflection. It represents the greatest threat to our world – not a theoretical but a real threat, as illustrated by the increasingly frequent extreme weather events in Europe and across the world.

The time to act is now, as the many young people who march against climate change every Friday rightly say.. The energy policy choices made in the coming years will define the structure of the energy system by 2050 – the timetable within which the challenge of climate change must be fully met, in order not to be irretrievably lost.

In recent years, Europe has been at the forefront of global action against climate change. The EU has adopted ambitious policies to reduce its CO2 emissions and support renewable energy sources, while also playing a key role in brokering the landmark Paris Agreement. The EU has also recently increased its level of ambition, by adopting a strategy that aims to make Europe the first major world economy to become carbon-neutral by 2050. The only way to achieve this is to promote a profound transformation of the European energy system, as energy is responsible for three-quarters of CO2 emissions.

The good news is that this is becoming technically and economically possible, as most of the technologies needed for this transformation are now available, at ever lower costs. What is needed is a public policy framework capable of promoting this transformation in an intelligent way – in other words, by seizing the economic and industrial opportunities of such transformation and ensuring its social inclusiveness.

There are five priorities on which a new strategic agenda should be structured to ensure the green future of Europe:

Increase the role of renewable energy sources in a sustainable way

Electricity from renewable sources will be one of the main vectors of the decarbonisation of our economy, playing a key role also in the transport and residential sectors. Wind and solar energy are now proven and cost-effective technologies.

However, the wind does not blow every hour, just as the sun does not shine every day. This variability represents a major challenge for the electricity system, as the demand for energy is independent of such fluctuations. With the growth of renewables, it will therefore be necessary to promote flexibility in the system, through investments in solutions such as electricity storage, interconnections, demand-side management systems and natural-gas infrastructure to serve as a back-up of the system. Without such investments, the systemic costs of renewable energies could skyrocket, and the resilience of the electricity system jeopardised.

Remove coal from the energy mix

Coal remains the most polluting component of the European energy system, and alone accounts for 15% of Europe’s CO2 emissions. Coal is deeply damaging not only to the climate, but also to the air we breathe every day and consequently our health. European coal-using countries should therefore be encouraged to shut down these power stations quickly – and much more quickly than, for example, Germany has planned (by 2038).

Decarbonise transport

To date, Europe has failed in its plans to reduce CO2 emissions in the transport sector, where emissions continue to increase. Transport is thus becoming a key obstacle to the EU’s decarbonisation efforts. For this reason, more aggressive policies are needed, with a particular focus on the road transport segment which accounts for more than 70% of total transport emissions. The decarbonisation of road transport would also improve air quality in our cities, which remains a key challenge for improving the health of European citizens.

Prevent the rise of new ‘Gilets Jaunes’

Climate policies can have a regressive effect, affecting the poorer segments of the population more significantly than the richer ones. This must be recognised in an honest way, in order to act and put in place the necessary compensation and social-protection mechanisms. Only in this way will it be possible to guarantee social support for the energy transformation process, avoiding any new ‘Gilets Jaunes’ movements across Europe.

Turn the energy transformation into an industrial revolution

Decarbonising the European economy also means investing in the industries of tomorrow. Europe has the potential to be a world leader in the manufacture of products such as wind turbines, electric cars and next-generation batteries. Investing in these industries could secure jobs, economic growth and thus overall long-term socio-economic sustainability.

A new strategic agenda structured on these points would find the approval of European citizens. According to the Eurobarometer, 90% of Europeans consider the environment to be a key issue for the quality of their life. More than 70% of them believe that decisions on the environment and energy policy should be taken at the European level, given their global scope.

European leaders should be able to interpret this public feeling and implement the necessary policies. At a time of deep divisions, it is more important than ever to focus on issues of cross-cutting consensus, where action at the European level has real added value compared to fragmented national policies. The construction of the Europe of tomorrow, therefore, must begin here.


Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint. Anyone is free to republish and/or quote this post without prior consent. Please provide a full reference, clearly stating Bruegel and the relevant author as the source, and include a prominent hyperlink to the original post.

View comments
Read about event

Past Event

Past Event

Climate change and the role of central banks

What connections exist between central banks and climate change, and what are the resulting implications?

Speakers: Emanuele Campiglio, Paul Hiebert, Pierre Monnin, Kjell G. Nyborg, Luiz Awazu Pereira da Silva, Mario Quagliariello, Mattia Romani, Paweł Samecki and Dirk Schoenmaker Topic: Energy & Climate, European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Narodowy Bank Polski, Świętokrzyska 11/21, 00-919 Warsaw Date: September 16, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Podcast

Podcast

Director's Cut: The Green New Deal

In this Director's Cut of 'The Sound of Economics', Guntram Wolff and Simone Tagliapietra discuss the division of tasks for the new EU commissioners, following Ursua Von der Leyen's announcement of roles on 10th September. They specifically zoom in on the role of the Green Deal, one of the flagship projects of this commission.

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: Energy & Climate Date: September 11, 2019
Read article Download PDF More on this topic More by this author

Policy Brief

Collective action in a fragmented world

International collective action is in search of a new paradigm. It cannot rely anymore on global binding rules supported by universal institutions. New forms of cooperation have emerged in a number of fields. Europe should equip itself to be an effective player in this new global game. This calls for internal governance reforms.

By: Jean Pisani-Ferry Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: September 11, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Opinion

Economic priorities for new EU leadership

Europe is no longer in crisis mode. However, it remains vulnerable; it is unprepared and it is procrastinating. Following European elections this May, new leaders are about to take their positions at the main European institutions for the next 5 years. They have the power in their hands to take action. But more importantly, they have the power to convene 28 states, which, if united, can play a significant global role. What are the urgent challenges that require collective European action?

By: Maria Demertzis Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: September 10, 2019
Read about event

Upcoming Event

Oct
21
08:30

What industrial policy for the European Green Deal?

This event will be a workshop, aiming to look into the design and implementation process of the European Green Deal. Each session will be introduced by three short presentations aimed at launching the discussion among all workshop participants.

Speakers: Simone Tagliapietra and Reinhilde Veugelers Topic: Energy & Climate, European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Opinion

Dousing the Sovereignty Wildfire

In time, the current spat between French President Emmanuel Macron and his Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro regarding the Amazon rainforest may become a mere footnote. But other rows between collective and national interests are sure to erupt, and the world needs to find a way to manage them.

By: Jean Pisani-Ferry Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: September 3, 2019
Read article

Blog Post

Border Carbon Tariffs: Giving Up on Trade to Save the Climate?

Ursula von der Leyen plans to introduce a border carbon tax to avoid that cutting EU carbon emissions forces EU companies to move their activities abroad. But will this tax trigger a conflict between climate preservation and the multilateral trading system, or can trade and climate preservation coexist?

By: Henrik Horn and André Sapir Topic: Energy & Climate, European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: August 29, 2019
Read article

Blog Post

How long is the head table?

An empirical assessment of concentration in global collective action

By: Jan Mazza and Jean Pisani-Ferry Topic: Energy & Climate, Global Economics & Governance Date: August 28, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Opinion

The Democrats need to have a climate-only TV debate. For Americans and for the rest of us

A series of global summits mean the months between now and November 2020 will be crucial to the future of climate change.

By: Simone Tagliapietra Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: August 6, 2019
Read article Download PDF More on this topic More by this author

External Publication

The impact of the global energy transition on MENA oil and gas producers

Endowed with half of the world's known oil and gas reserves, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is cornerstone of the global energy architecture. This article argues that – together with the pressing need to create jobs opportunities for a large and youthful population – the possibility of the world moving more aggressively towards a low-carbon future should represent a key argument for the implementation of economic reform programmes.

By: Simone Tagliapietra Topic: Energy & Climate Date: August 5, 2019
Read article More by this author

Opinion

The Coming Clash Between Climate and Trade

The new leaders of the European Union, who have relentlessly championed open markets, will, ironically, likely trigger a conflict between climate preservation and free trade. But this clash is unavoidable, and how Europe and the world manage it will help to determine the fate of globalisation, if not that of the climate.

By: Jean Pisani-Ferry Topic: Energy & Climate, Global Economics & Governance Date: August 1, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Opinion

The EU needs a bold climate strategy

Scientists report that global temperature increases must be limited to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. With global greenhouse gas emissions continuing to increase and rising temperatures driving up the frequency of extreme weather events, the world needs a greater commitment to climate policy.

By: Guntram B. Wolff Topic: Energy & Climate Date: July 19, 2019
Load more posts