The EU’s flagship political initiative, the European Green Deal, finally has some teeth to accompany the agreement reached in April this year on the EU Climate Law on a net greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.
This initial agreement already signalled a milestone achievement in the overarching EU goal of becoming the first climate neutral continent by 2050.
However, achieving these goals requires concrete legislative action for the EU to revise its energy and climate laws – this has been the job of the so-called FitFor55 package, announced this Wednesday to much fanfare from the European Commission, and consisting of 14 legislative proposals. But what does it all mean for cities?
Do the proposals go far enough?
“The European Commission has backed up the talk with action. On behalf of cities, we will engage in the next steps to ensure that this new framework fully boosts cities’ ability to act on climate. Our cities want a green and just transition towards a climate neutral Europe,” stated Anna Lisa Boni, Secretary General, Eurocities.
One of the biggest results, which Eurocities has campaigned on, was the proposal for a ban on new sales of fossil-fuelled cars and vans by 2035, which came via stricter targets for the coming years.
However, targets in other areas, such as for renewable energy fall short of what climate scientists say is needed for the EU to stick to a climate neutral trajectory by 2050. Similarly, a 36% target for energy efficiency is a low target for the EU, and misses setting specific targets at national level.
On a more positive note, the Energy Efficiency Directive has broadened the scope of buildings included in the annual renovation rate target of 3%, to include all public buildings over 250m2, and the presence of a new Social Climate Fund does go some way to bridging the gap to the most vulnerable people.
“The announced phase-out of new petrol & diesel vehicles is a big step forwards,” says Thomas Lymes, Policy Advisor for Mobility at Eurocities. “We expect many benefits in terms of air quality for European cities, even if there is still a long way to go before 2035. Cities will be particularly attentive to the upcoming discussions between EU policymakers on this matter. The increased CO2 targets for 2030 for both cars & vans will also allow more low & zero-emission vehicles to be available for drivers, making our cities healthier and more welcoming places to be in,” he added.
On the other hand, keeping low-emission vehicles on an equal footing to zero-emission vehicles may risk jeopardising these actions, given the recent evidence pointing to the fact that these models are not as environmentally friendly as branded by carmakers.
Another detail of note for cities is the treatment of SUVs, which haven’t been taken into account, according to Lymes. “Cites are concerned about the impact of these vehicles on climate & air pollution, as well as road safety, not to mention the space they take up on often narrow European streets. The CO2 regulation needs to go further, to incentivise the manufacturing of lighter vehicles & address the effect of SUVs on climate change,” said Lymes.
The European Commission has also taken a positive step on alternative fuels infrastructure, which will be deployed based on vehicle uptake – “that’s the right way to go to maximise the use of this infrastructure,” says Lymes, “as it takes into account the constraints faced by local authorities in terms of public space.” However, improvements to the proposal are still needed especially regarding the role of cities in the deployment of alternative fuels.
In line with the new energy targets outlined in the Energy Efficiency Directive, local authorities, along with all other public bodies, will have to reduce their overall energy consumption by 1.7% each year.
Another significant development is the consideration of the whole life-cycle of carbon emissions of buildings and the recognition of buildings as significant material banks and repositories for carbon intensive resources. While, the most significant opportunity to address operational and embodied carbon in a project occurs during the design stages, many cities are working to reduce embodied carbon and promote bio-based material. For example, cities like Munich and Tampere are experimenting with timber based construction, to reduce embodied carbon in the built environment.
When it comes to renewable energy (highlighted in the revision of the Renewable Energy Directive) there are several positives, such as a new indicative EU target of renewables in buildings of 49% by 2030, and new provisions inviting EU member states to encourage local and regional administrative bodies to include heating and cooling from renewable sources in the planning of city infrastructure.
However, to achieve this, adequate technical and financial support, as well as cooperation among all levels of government and enabling measures will be needed.
“Cities want to lead by example to renovate the buildings owned or occupied by local governments to meet minimum, cost-optimal efficiency standards, and by mainstreaming renewable energy sources in the building sector,” says Louise Coffineau, Policy Advisor on Climate at Eurocities. “To achieve our common goals, we call for support to local authorities in the uptake of energy efficiency and renewable energy improvement measures, by providing guidelines, financial and technical support, capacity building and training opportunities and encouraging cooperation amongst stakeholders,” she adds.
Climate Social Action Fund
From a city point of view, the European Green Deal must be first and foremost about people – ensuring a fair transition whereby social inclusion and climate neutrality go hand in hand means taking particular consideration of the impacts of the transition on the most vulnerable. “With the Fit for 55 climate package, the European Commission has acknowledged and shown a clear ambition to strengthen the social dimension in the European Green Deal,” says Masha Smirnova, Campaign Manager for the recently launched Mayors Alliance.
“The Climate Action Social Fund is a step in this direction. To achieve a socially fair decarbonisation, the Fund needs to be mobilised to provide income support to vulnerable groups to overcome the financial burden of climate change adaptation and mitigation,” says Smirnova. “To make the Fund achieve its goal of addressing the social and distributional impacts on the ground, EU and national governments need to step up their game and concretely involve cities in the design and management of this new mechanism,” she adds.
This would require, for example, targeted income support measures and investments in line with the European Pillar of Social Rights poverty reduction target, to which all EU member states have committed, which aims to lift 15 million Europeans out of poverty by 2030.
Additionally, this social aspect needs to be thought out across all other policies. For example, while the idea of making carbon more expensive is important to incentivise a shift to clean energy, any extension of the Emission Trading system to buildings and transport should be assessed against the background of potentially adverse impacts to the cost of living of citizens. Especially the poorest and most vulnerable groups.
Will it achieve the 55% target?
“If Europe is serious about becoming the first climate-neutral continent by mid-century, we need to increase our ambition for 2030. Cities across our continent demonstrate climate innovation and ambition on a daily basis. And it’s only through these local level efforts that we will get people on board. The ability of city leaders, in a joined up effort with other levels of government, to implement ambitious policies to make the European Green Deal a reality for all people will be the most important game changer for Europe,” concludes Boni.