How EU States Are Becoming The Models For Climate Policy
When the Green New Deal in the U.S. was proposed as an alternative to combat greenhouse gas emissions, many were quick to reject the idea—some thinking it would be impossible to implement and regulate while others would hardly give a life without fossil fuels a chance. While the U.S. was so hesitant to produce climate policy to combat carbon emissions, the European Commission pledged their own “Green Deal” just seven months ago. And even after their pledge to reach net zero emissions by 2050, scientists argue that it still isn’t enough unless significant reductions are made by 2030. But with only nine years and a few weeks left to reach this goal, how are EU countries going to meet these reductions in time?
To evaluate this question, let’s look towards three EU countries’ policy and understand why they serve as models for climate change in the status quo.
Back in 2017, Sweden adopted a new climate policy framework that would ensure the nation accomplishes their goal of zero net greenhouse gas emission by 2045. After 2045, the country aims to contribute to negative net emissions, showcasing that the country is determined to comply with even more policy, such as the Climate Act. Entered into force in January 2018, the Act requires the Government to:
draw up a climate report in its Budget Bill each year
reintroduce. climate policy action plan every fourth year to describe how the climate targets are to be achieved
make sure that climate policy goals are consistent with budget policy goals
Further, a part of Sweden’s framework, the nation forms a climate policy council in order to keep the Government accountable if it fails to adhere to regulations and demands. The council is required to submit an assessment on addressing climate change and current emission trends yearly. Three months after the government had submitted their action plan, another report must be drafted regarding how the action plan has been implemented.
Lastly, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency must also present a climate policy action plan every four years on how the climate goals must be achieved. These increments will focus on milestone targets such as:
by 2020, emissions are to be 40% lower than 1990
by 2030, emissions are to be 63% lower than 1990
by 2040, emissions are to be 75% lower than 1990
Not only does the framework assist in maintaining the country’s personal goals, but it also helps Sweden comply with the Paris Agreement. Because more than half of Sweden’s national energy supply is derived from its use of renewable sources in collaboration with their improved social and governance practices, Sweden is the second most sustainable country in the world behind Norway.
When the Netherlands signed the Paris climate accords in 2016, it did so with little enthusiasm. The governing People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) rejected lobbying for the issue that had caused most the country to be at or below sea level. They had hoped the EU would form a stronger solution and force it upon them, but this didn’t occur. But when the VVD sought to form a new government, one of its partners, Democrats 66, agreed to join on the condition that this new government has to enact policies to achieve the Paris accords goals.
The nation soon established a deliberative structure known as the polder model, which brings together all stakeholders on a given issue in order to reach a conclusion at least minimally acceptable to all. Then, the Netherlands’ parliament converts their decisions into legislation. Thanks to the VVDs influence on climate change, the Netherlands has been able to implement one of the most comprehensive climate policies in the world.
At the core of the Netherlands’ deliberative system, the Social and Economic Council (SER) addresses social and economic issues relating to possible legislation. Within the past decade, the SER has made climate change and policies combating it their primary focus. In 2013, they initiated talks relating to renewable energy that evolved into the Energy Agreement. The Agreement recommended a push for offshore wind power and other mechanisms to reduce emissions; however, the government had not stated they would invest in renewable energy, but the report increased public support for the shift. Only six years later, this opinion had changed drastically. Due to the amount of pressure to decrease emissions, the new government exercised power over the polder process by instructing polder members that they must reduce carbon dioxide emissions to be 49 percent lower than in 1990 by 2030. The first step was by assigning specific assignments for emission targets which were distributed into sectors – industry, electricity, mobility, agriculture, and the built government – in order to establish preliminary findings.
The preliminary climate report constituted:
A sweeping plan to use a combination of taxes, incentives, investment subsidies and suasion to change Dutch habits on driving, farming, home heating, and power generation.
Using these findings, the government was able to implement a carbon tax on major emitters and the Climate Act which incorporates a system of monitoring and reporting while maintaining most of its original recommendations from the polders. Although the VVD originally thought of climate change as nothing but an advantage at the polls, their optimism has transpired into some of the most progressive policies to date.
When a petition launched in January of 2019 for a climate law that would align Denmark with the Paris Agreement, around 1% of the population had signed in less than a week--a strong indication of the people’s view on climate policy. Although the demands did not receive parliamentary support, when the election rolled around months later, climate change had become a top issue on ballots. Ultimately, this resulted in a victory for Mette Frederikson’s Social Democrats who made climate action one of their highest priorities.
Fast forward to December 2019 where the majority of the Danish Parliament agreed on a legally binding national Climate Act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent by 2030 compared to 1990. The Act requires that the government set legally binding targets within a ten-year perspective for every five years. It further outlines the necessity for concrete policies targeting the six sectors: energy, housing, industry, transportation, energy efficiency, agriculture, and land use change and forestry. Despite Denmark’s traditional usage of its Council for climate initiatives, the Danish energy ministry had devised a new solution. It intends to build an artificial island dedicated to tying in power from offshore wind, supposedly more than enough to supply the nation’s entire population. Although the plan would cost around $29.5 billion-44.2 billion, the expenses in the present would balance out the financial advantage expected in the future.
Even before Denmark’s international recognition for its new law, the country has always been at the forefront of carbon neutrality. The country first began re-evaluating its energy policies following the 1970s oil crisis, replacing coal with wind and biofuels. However, it is three decades forward that Denmark’s government agreed to put an end to all oil and gas exploration and extraction in the North Sea by 2050 entirely. As Climate Minister Dan Joergensen stated, “We are now putting a final end to the fossil era.” The economic disparity between the amount of money Denmark would need to finance future projects but also lose by eliminating this one could present difficulties in investing in other sectors; however, because both intend on achieving target goals of the Act, it could be the future that Denmark needs. Ultimately, Denmark’s prosperous economy and climate policies should serve as a model to other developing countries that you do not need to sacrifice one for the other.
Aurora Lai is a high school sophomore at American Heritage School in Plantation, FL.