2021 – the year when the European Commission goes all green

At the beginning of her mandate in 2019, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pledged to place action on the climate crisis at the heart of her Commission’s work. Maria Wetterstrand explains how this high-minded ambition of the EU is now translating into concrete policy action.

No one raises an eyebrow anymore if you comment that 2020 was a somewhat strange year. So let’s just leave that behind and look at 2021. At least from the European perspective, it promises to be a fascinating year – for the EU Commission has named 2021 as the year when they go from strategy to delivery. What does that really mean?

It means the Commission intends to start taking action on policy initiatives that they conceived in 2020 – a lot of which concern the Green Deal and sustainability. At the heart of this stands, of course, the new, more ambitious target to decrease greenhouse gas emissions which will be an important driver for EU policy initiatives in 2021. However, there are many more measures the EU hopes to turn from theory into practice in the coming twelve months.

This means green issues are high up on the agenda. We’re already beginning to see some results, although a lot is to follow.

When the EU Commission publishes a strategy, it is to show the way forward; set the priorities; and point out the direction in which the EU intends to go. The strategy, when ready, is then commented upon by the European Parliament and the Council – forming the basis for how the Commission moves forward. Usually there is also a lot of input coming from NGOs, the industry, and other stakeholders during the process.

In itself, a strategy means little. It’s what happens afterwards that makes any real difference.

Certainly, the Commission has shown ambition: in the field of agriculture, the Berlaymont will be championing the “Farm to Fork Strategy”. With its strategies for “Sustainable and Smart Mobility”, hydrogen, and energy system integration, the Berlaymont has three key initiatives of interest to the energy and transport industry. Even proposals such as the Biodiversity Strategy are likely to affect a wide range of sectors. Finally, the new Industrial Strategy and the Renovation Wave strategy are also worth highlighting as major policy interventions. In all these action plans, we find concrete and ambitious targets like:

· Doubling renovation rate in the EU to 2030, while assuring it leads to higher energy efficiency

· 1 million charging points for electric vehicles by 2030

· 1000 filling stations for hydrogen by 2030

· 6 GW electrolysers by 2024 to produce 1 million ton hydrogen gas

· Reducing the use of pesticides by 50% to 2030

· Achieving 25% of agricultural land under organic farming by 2030

· Establishing protected areas for 30% of EU land by 2030

· Restoring at least 25000 km of EU rivers to free flowing state

· A carbon border adjustment mechanism to be proposed in 2021

And these are just a few examples. The targets as such might have no legal weight but they show where the EU will focus its efforts going forward.

On top of the above, we will have a new target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 that is supposed to guide the EU on its path to climate neutrality by 2050: while the Commission and Council have proposed to cut emissions by 55% within this decade, the Parliament wants to go further by slashing them by 60%.

So, the EU Commission intends to deliver upon all of these and a lot of others by taking different types of actions during 2021.

Energy, transport, construction, food, manufacturing, and nature protection – there is hardly any sector which will not be affected by EU initiatives in 2021 and the coming years. To reach the climate neutrality and other targets, a lot needs to change – and it won’t only be smooth sailing: some will find the initiatives and proposals too ambitious, while others will find them too vague or too weak. The general direction seems to be clear though: the EU intends to drive a transformation in a greener direction.

Maria Wetterstrand is Miltton Europe’s CEO, a Swede who stopped by Finland on her way to Brussels.