Members' Research Service By / March 19, 2021

EU climate action policy: Responding to the global emergency

The European Green Deal aims at making the European Union (EU) climate-neutral by 2050, a target supported by all EU institutions.

Photo by Alto Crew on Unsplash.com © European Union, 2021.

Written by Aleksandra Heflich, Niombo Lomba and Klaus Müller, European Added Value Unit; Stefano Vettorazzi, Ex-Ante Impact Assessment Unit; Ekaterina Karamfilova, Ex-Post Evaluation Unit; Alessandro D’Alfonso, Gregor Erbach, Vivienne Halleux, Liselotte Jensen, James McEldowney, Marketa Pape, Henrique Simões, Frederik Scholaert, Jana Titievskaia and Ionel Zamfir, Members’ Research Service,

Photo by Alto Crew on Unsplash.com © European Union, 2021.

The European Green Deal aims at making the European Union (EU) climate-neutral by 2050, a target supported by all EU institutions. With this objective, the EU takes a leading role in addressing the global climate emergency. Achieving the climate-neutrality goal requires massive investment and an unprecedented transformation of all sectors of the economy.

This study explains the physical basis of climate change and highlights its expected impacts on the European Union; outlines international climate agreements, EU climate action and the climate policies of major economies; assesses the coherence of EU climate policy with other policy areas and presents the financing of EU climate action through the EU budget and other instruments. To assess the implications of the climate neutrality objective, the study analyses the challenges and opportunities for various sectors of the EU economy and its impacts on issues such as international relations and trade. Some of the main challenges and opportunities are summarised below.

Citizens support ambitious climate action and are ready to change towards more climate-friendly behaviours. Climate-friendly consumption choices can be supported by appropriate policies and information about the climate impact of consumer products. Policies to address climate change often also have co-benefits for human health.

Innovation policies and research and development (R&D) funding help to facilitate and accelerate the diffusion of innovative low-carbon technologies from the research laboratory to large-scale deployment in the market. This rapid innovation needs to be accompanied by measures to ensure a just transition for regions that are currently dependent on energy and emissions-intensive industries. Local action in cities plays an important role in reducing their vulnerability to climate change, through adaptation measures and in contributing to emissions reductions at the local level. Due to the large existing building stock, the buildings sector faces a challenge to accelerate energy-efficient renovation, which offers opportunities for job creation and addressing energy poverty. The finance sector faces the challenge of aligning financial flows with the transition towards climate neutrality and managing the risks associated with stranded assets.

Europe’s industry will need to become climate neutral and less energy intensive. Key enabling factors are markets for green products, infrastructure, and support for industrial innovation. The energy system faces the challenge of replacing fossil fuels with reliable emission-free energy sources. The transport sector will need to introduce clean alternatives to fossil fuels rapidly, to prevent European automotive and aerospace industries from falling behind in the transition towards low-carbon mobility.

Nature-based solutions offer great potential for climate mitigation and adaptation, but natural systems are also vulnerable to a changing climate. The same is true for agriculture, which is highly vulnerable to climate change, but also has a large potential to contribute to emission reductions and carbon sequestration. Oceans face various climate-related pressures, which also affect fisheries, while ocean energy and offshore wind offer large untapped potential for clean energy.

Since the EU is responsible for only a fraction of global emissions, global leadership and engagement with international partners through trade and diplomacy are vital. Development cooperation can also support adaptation to climate change in third countries and thereby address one of the drivers of migration.

The final chapter addresses the issues facing European policy-makers and the outlook for European and global climate action in the context of the coronavirus pandemic.


Read the complete study on ‘EU climate action policy: Responding to the global emergency‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.



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