• Europe plans to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050.
  • The measures include tougher emissions targets, increased support for biodiversity, and a revision of EU farming subsidies.
  • European Commission called it Europe's ‘man on the moon’ moment”.

By 2050, Europe wants to become the world’s first climate-neutral continent – that’s the key message in a series of goals and initiatives announced by the European Commission known as the European Green Deal.

It aims to “transform the European Union into a fair and prosperous society, with a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy,” the Commission says.

Among its timeline of objectives, the Commission has called for a 50% increase to the EU 2030 climate target, which currently calls for a 40% cut in greenhouse gas emissions and an increase in the use of renewable energy.

It is also calling for:

  • A revision of vehicle taxation.
  • A new offshore wind power strategy.
  • More support for the circular economy.
  • A comprehensive network of charging points for electric vehicles.
  • Support for biodiversity action.
  • A revision of agricultural strategies to cut down on the use of chemical pesticides, fertilizers and antibiotics.

A shake-up for coal and farming?

In 2019 Europe saw a fall of almost one-fifth in the generation of coal-fired electricity – described by the climate change think tank Sandbag as the Great Coal Collapse of 2019.

Addressing climate change is not just an environmental priority. As outlined in the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report, economic and social stability are at significant risk of disruption from climate-related problems.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

Climate change poses an urgent threat demanding decisive action. Communities around the world are already experiencing increased climate impacts, from droughts to floods to rising seas. The World Economic Forum's Global Risks Report continues to rank these environmental threats at the top of the list.

To limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C and as close as possible to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, it is essential that businesses, policy-makers, and civil society advance comprehensive near- and long-term climate actions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The World Economic Forum's Climate Initiative supports the scaling and acceleration of global climate action through public and private-sector collaboration. The Initiative works across several workstreams to develop and implement inclusive and ambitious solutions.

This includes the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, a global network of business leaders from various industries developing cost-effective solutions to transitioning to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. CEOs use their position and influence with policy-makers and corporate partners to accelerate the transition and realize the economic benefits of delivering a safer climate.

Contact us to get involved.

But some of the bloc’s activities may be causing more harm than is widely known. Support for agriculture has been central to Europe since 1957 with the creation of the European Economic Community – the forerunner to the EU – and the Common Agricultural Policy. The EU now pays out an estimated 37% of its total annual budget to farmers.

According to a report from the New York Times, there are concerns that subsidizing farm production over the past 50-plus years has had devastating environmental impacts:

Decaying algae belches deadly gas onto beaches in northwestern France. Dwindling bird populations threaten the balance of entire ecosystems. Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture are on the rise.

“And in the Baltic Sea, decades of farm runoff have helped create huge dead zones.”

E.U. farm subsidies and nitrate pollution
The most heavily subsidized areas have the worst nitrate pollution.
Image: New York Times/ T Jansson, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

As more member states have joined the EU and accessed those farming subsidies, many of the problems outlined above have grown worse. And maps showing areas of the worst affected areas of nitrate pollution correspond with areas receiving the highest subsidies, the Times article states.

The EU says its agricultural policy supports farmers, ensures Europe’s food security and helps tackle climate change and the sustainable management of natural resources. And following a reform of the policy in 2013, “sustainable management of natural resources and climate action” are among its new core objectives.

Over the moon

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has described the Green Deal as “Europe’s ‘man on the moon’ moment”.

But not every member state is on board. The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland – all coal-reliant countries – want to win financial guarantees before backing the Green Deal.

Even if Europe makes progress with its ambitious plans and hits its carbon-neutral goals, some still question the world’s commitment to the environment.

Speaking at the UN’s COP25 climate congress in Madrid, campaigner Greta Thunberg was highly critical: “I’m sure that if people heard what was going on and what was said ... during these meetings, they would be outraged,” she said. “It seems to have turned into some kind of opportunity for countries to negotiate loopholes and to avoid raising their ambition.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has praised the EU’s Green Deal but pointed out that many of the world’s most influential economies are yet to meet their 2015 Paris Agreement commitments, saying: “If we just go on as we are, we are doomed”.