The EU race to climate neutrality

In the transition to a greener EU, there are countries leading the way, like Sweden. Yet, among those who find themselves in the middle of the race, it is valuable to examine France and Italy

“An unfair race” is how the new environmental policies at the EU level might look at first glance. Putting different countries up to the same standard seems like an allegory for a race that already has its winners when some players aren't even on the field yet, but is that the case? Not quite.

The EU, with its policies, aims at increasing cooperation through effort sharing designed in a way that leaves no one behind. The EU Climate Law imposes a binding target of 55% reduction of greenhouse gases emission by 2030 and a carbon-neutral union by 2050. EU countries shall cheer and aid each other in achieving those goals. Member States don't sit on a podium waiting but actively make it, so everyone reaches the finishing line.

The case of Sweden

In the transition to a greener EU, there are countries leading the way. Enter Sweden, aming for climate neutrality by 2045, five years ahead of the EU goal.

Upon reaching their 2045 goal, it will be the world’s first fossil fuel-free state. The speed of the transition to a sustainable low-carbon society is impressive. They understood that the public and private sectors must cooperate, embracing innovation and climate-smart solutions.

As Sweden decreased its emissions by 29% compared to 1990, economic growth has also increased by 86% in the same time frame. A carbon dioxide tax introduced in 1991 made their society climate aware and helped to phase out coal and oil. Government procurement in technologies made efficiency increases with a focus on biofuel.

Sweden is a small country, yet they see themselves as influencers towards the world, wanting to lead on exporting solutions and showing that it is possible to combine climate-friendly goals with a prosperous economy. Among those who find themselves in the middle of the race, it is valuable to examine France and Italy.

The cases of France and Italy

France has been criticised multiple times for its insufficient efforts towards the green transition. However, the current French government’s aims would be impactful at the EU level. While France relies heavily on Nuclear energy (40% in its mix), its goals to cut the remaining non-renewables, such as closing its last coal plant by 2022, is still an incredible feat. Moreover, the country aims to lower nuclear power generated electricity from 70% to 50% while reaching a goal of a 32% increase in renewable sources by 2030.

Italy has had a solid pro-renewables outlook in the past decade, and this is still the main focus for the future in terms of energy consumption adjustment. The goal set forward for 2030 amounts to 55% of final electricity consumption to come from renewables. In other words, the country expects to double its energy production coming from wind and triple solar energy. If this goal is met, energy consumption from renewables could come to overpower energy coming from natural gas and oil.

Some countries enter the race at a considerable disadvantage, notably countries that inherited a heavily carbonised energy mix that contributes to most of their greenhouse gas emissions.

The cases of Estonia and Poland

Estonia, for instance, relies on domestically produced oil shale for up to 70% of its mix. A complete transition to clean energy sources would result in a possible increase in dependence on energy imports and high costs. These challenges do not frighten the Estonian government though, which has supported the European targets from the outset and plans to entirely phase out shale oil by 2040.

Looking at Poland, however, the story is entirely different. Still reliant on coal for 44% of its mix, the road towards carbon-neutrality remains long. Moreover, the relationship between the EU and the Polish government has been deteriorating considerably, endangering Poland’s transition. Last year, President Andrzej Duda got elected on the promise not to close any coal mines, and the current Prime Minister accuses the EU of withholding funds needed to reach the targets.

​​Despite different trajectories of the member states, now more than ever the EU’s strength is tied to its ability to work as one. Legislation at EU level ensures that everyone is taken into consideration, be it the Member States or its citizens. That is the reason why the EU has provided a Just Transition Mechanism and a Social Climate Fund to help meet its climate regulations.

In the end, it is essential to remember that the European Union has the most ambitious and far-reaching climate mitigation regulations in the world

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