History of EU environmental policies and Member States’ compliance

The EU is tackling the climate crisis by promoting sustainable development and the integration of environmental policies through some of its founding agreements

Since the dawning of the global environmental era in Western Europe, the European Community has employed legal and political instruments to counter environmental degradation. From the first - non binding - Environmental Action Programme in 1973 to the most recent Climate Law, it is clear that the EU is tackling the climate crisis to the best of its ability; by promoting sustainable development and the integration of environmental policies through some of its founding agreements.

The Maastricht Treaty further enhanced the environmental provisions of the Single European Act (1986), the earliest formal legal basis with a clear mandate for community environmental policy, marking a historic first. A decade later, the Amsterdam Treaty further extended the legislative authority of the European Parliament into environmental policy, ordaining the integration of sustainable development. Since the beginning of legislating climate policies, it is worth noting that the earliest mention of “climate change” as a term was only made with the amendment of the TFEU in 2008 in Art.192. Ever since then, “climate change” has been the main concern in the EU’s environmental legislation. Not only has the Union ratified the Paris Agreement,  which replaced the Kyoto Protocol of 1998, it has now most recently adopted a new regulation, referred to as Climate Law,  which aims to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions for EU countries as a whole, in compliance with the goals of the Paris Agreement. However, is climate neutrality really a goal that Member States are willing to invest into?

The Member States’ performance

Considering the history of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions per capita, the countries currently leading the CCPI Ranking - namely Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Malta - have decreased their emissions from 1998 to 2019. The observation is no different for Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Belgium, which are among the worst-performing countries in the CCPI Ranking. However, Slovenia, one of the five worst-performing EU countries and holding fiftieth place in the ranking, has increased its GHG emissions by 4.8 tonnes of Carbon dioxide equivalent (t CO2 eq). It is worth noting that Lithuania, which currently holds fourth place in the rank, has also increased the GHG emissions by 0.9 t CO2 eq during the specified time period.

Nevertheless, Lithuania's records seem to be below the Paris compatible pathway, thus indicating an optimistic future in regards to achieving the 2030 goal. It seems that disregarding the outliers, most top-performing and worst-performing countries, regardless of their positioning in the CCPI Ranking, have had a positive contribution towards the climate target of 2030 between the years 1998 and 2019. However, it remains under debate whether the countries' actions in the most recent years have been impactful enough to achieve the aims of the Paris Agreement signed in 2016.

Recent movements and politics

Besides such legislations, new social movements such as Fridays for Future (FFF), which aims to draw attention to climate change as a threat, have emerged. Could this movement have contributed to  climate change mitigation of EU Member States? If we take a closer look at how the data on the CO2 emissions has changed since the protests began in 2018, emissions have fallen in 9 out of our 10 comparing countries. Only the Czech Republic had an increase of their GHG emissions per Capita by 0,3 t CO2. However, the movement is unlikely to be the only cause. Firstly, it is unrealistic that only after a year of climate strikes  emissions have been cut down, since their reduction is a long-term process. Secondly, in each country there are too many different variables influencing the climate fight, such as government, politics, budget and population.

Since the movement is still very young, we do not have enough data to come to a concrete conclusion. However, FFF has certainly taught us that if Member States want to achieve their climate change mitigation goals, they must raise awareness among people with regard to climate change. Only by working together in politics, industry and society, can climate policy be implemented successfully.

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