EU Commission presents ‘historic’ European Green Deal plan

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Just 11 days after coming into office, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen presented the key points of the 24 page draft “European Green Deal” in Brussels, which is expected to trigger €1 trillion in investments.

The goals are set to be formalized in a climate protection law, which should be ready by March 2020. The heads of state and government are taking today and tomorrow to negotiate the program in Brussels.

Looking to the details, the EU Commission is stepping up its commitment to climate protection by decreasing CO2 emissions by 50-55% by 2030, compared to the base year 1990. This compares to the current target of 40%. By 2050, the EU is aiming to be climate neutral.

A far reaching reorganization of energy supply, industry, transport and agriculture has been envisaged, with renewable energies playing a leading role. Despite this, wind is the only energy mentioned by name.

Regional cooperation between member states should ensure that offshore wind energy is significantly expanded, according to the draft. The Commission has also attached great importance to green gas. In this vein, it plans to create a market for climate neutral natural gas; and to advance the cross border expansion of energy networks.

With its strategy, the Commission takes into account the fact that climate change deficits are particularly high in the transport sector. For example, gasoline and diesel are to be taxed more heavily and the CO2 limits for light commercial vehicles to be tightened.

It says shipping traffic should be included in the CO2 emissions trading, while it plans to issue fewer free CO2 certificates for air traffic, which should result in a rise in ticket prices.

Alternative fuels will also be promoted, and charging infrastructure for electric vehicles expanded.

A total of €100 billion is expected to be made available to those countries particularly affected by the switch to climate neutral economies. This would benefit above all countries in eastern Europe, which are still lagging considerably behind in the transition to renewable energies.

The final European Green Deal is set to be revealed at next year’s COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, next year.

Solar’s integral role

Despite, or perhaps rather because of, the EU Commission’s lack of recognition for solar in the draft proposal – which could be considered strange given that it is seen by many as one of the biggest keys, alongside storage, to the energy transition, based on its competitively low costs, decentralized nature and positive operation effects to name but a few – the SolarPower Europe (SPE) association has created seven solutions detailing how solar can play out its “crucial” role.

These are: (i) the installation of solar on all new and renovated residential, commercial, and industrial buildings in the EU; (ii) the establishment of a strategic solar value chain; (iii) the more effective transition of former coal regions to solar; (iv) the development of skills and training programs to support the energy transition; (v) support for flexible large-scale solar installations; (vi) acceleration of the development and roll-out of solar-powered mobility; and (vii) a commitment to developing solar and renewable hydrogen.

One should also not forget the role biodiversity concepts integrated into solar farms can play, both in helping to restore lands used previously for intensive agricultural purposes and to boost plummeting insect populations and endangered plant species, as has been demonstrated both in Europe and further afield. Solar coupled with agriculture is another concept which is gaining in popularity.

In an Opinion & analysis article published on pv magazine yesterday, Walburga Hemetsberger, CEO, SPE wrote, “As the Commission prepares its strategy for a European Green Deal, it is important to understand how solar can deliver on ambitious climate targets. Committing to climate neutrality by 2050 is a game-changer for Europe, as it requires a paradigm shift in the way we live, consume, produce, and travel as European citizens. It also offers significant opportunities to businesses and industries to prepare for a sustainable future, and enjoy the benefits that renewable energy offers.”

Bringing sustainability to the fore

pv magazine launched the UP campaign in May 2019 to effect truly sustainable action in both the solar and storage industries. To date, we have held our first quarterly topic looking at the use of lead in c-Si modules, held a webinar with initiative partner SMA on greenwashing vs. verifiable sustainability; conducted a sustainability survey; unveiled our sustainable champions for 2019; and placed a spotlight on a host of other sustainability issues, from biodiversity to air travel. Q1 2020 will focus on raw material sourcing in batteries.

Historic

The unveiling of the draft European Green Deal has drawn comment from myriad sources.

“The announcement by EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is historic – even if the Green Deal, as of today, is only a plan,” said Andreas Kuhlmann, CEO of Germany Energy Agency, Dena.

He continued, “One of the world’s largest economic areas would put itself at the forefront of climate policy, at least as far as the description of the goals are concerned. With regard to the international agreements, the tightening of the goals is consistent, but also daring. So far, there are no robust scenarios for how the path to the goal can be designed.”

“Other Green Deal proposals of key importance to solar include the ‘Renovation Wave Initiative’, set to be announced in 2021, which could boost the installation of solar rooftops in Europe, exploiting the 90% of EU roofs that are currently unused,” wrote SPE in a press release issued today. It also highlighted the importance of the upcoming Green Financing Strategy, set to be released in the coming March as being integral to achieving Europe’s climate targets.

Martin Führ, professor of Public Law, Legal Theory and Comparative Law at Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences in Germany made an interesting point to page 7 of the draft, which contains a passage referring to the circular economy.

“Shortly before the passage in question,” he wrote, “the document contains a description of the problem: the global extraction of raw materials has tripled between 1970 and 2017; with an increasing tendency. About half of greenhouse gas emissions and 90 percent of other global environmental impacts are attributable to this. This shows where, in my opinion, the ‘key’ lies in the green deal: in production and consumption patterns (Sustainable Development Goals 12, SDG 12). The EU has the biggest footprint on other continents.”

SDG 12 refers to responsible consumption and production; and “responsibility begins with the extraction of raw materials,” says Führ.

Raw material sourcing in batteries

In Q1 2020, pv magazine will push the UP initiative towards sustainability concerns in storage. Between January and March, we will set out the pressing sustainability issues impacting the storage industry and looks into solutions that manufacturers and consumers can deploy today. Read exactly what we’ll be focusing on here.

He continued, “As the world’s largest consumer market, the EU not only has a special responsibility, but also has great leverage. The necessary innovations in the direction of SDG 12 are to be tackled by the key players (from the raw materials and chemical industries to the manufacturing sector to ‘brands’ and retail). Their extended producer responsibility (EPR) is primarily to strengthen in four points.”

These are (i) raw materials; (ii) individual product responsibility with regards to re-use, refurbishment and recycling; (iii) transparency of ingredients in products and elimination of toxic substances; and (iv) incentive to develop durable and repairable products.

Also focusing on the circular economy aspect was ECOS, a global environmental organization specialized in standardization. Executive director Justin Wilkes raised concerns about the way chemicals are treated in the Green Deal.

“Europe’s actions should focus on fostering product and material circularity and protecting human health by systematically excluding the use of substances of concern. A ‘chemical innovation strategy’ is dressing up ‘business as usual’ as ‘innovation’,” he said, adding, “With the next Circular Economy Action Plan meant to deliver half of the carbon cuts under the Green Deal, the potential is certainly great, and so are the expectations. Is the European Commission capable of delivering?”

This article was amended on 13/11/19 to reflect (in the teaser text) €100 billion has been made available for the proposed energy transition, rather than the €1 billion previously stated.