His task: translate the climate ambitions of 27 countries and 455 million people into political reality.
The European Green Deal will make the world’s second-largest economy sustainable and climate-neutral by 2050—a plan set to produce, in the words of Politico, “a legislative firestorm” that will profoundly reshape the continent. Leading those efforts is Frans Timmermans, the European Commission’s Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal.
In late February he spoke with Brunswick’s Chair of Europe, Pascal Lamy, who served in the European Commission for almost a decade as Head of Cabinet for the President of the European Commission. More recently, Mr. Lamy served two consecutive terms as Director-General of the World Trade Organization between 2005 and 2013, and is President Emeritus of the Jacques Delors Institute, an organization that, along with Brunswick, co-hosted the webinar from which this conversation is drawn.
Frans, what’s the thrust of the Green Deal, and where do you see it going?
What we’ve done is translate our commitments to the Paris Agreement into concrete steps. If we want to fulfill the promises made in Paris, we have to reformulate a number of fundamental issues: How is our economy structured? What is a circular economy? How do you get there? How do you decarbonize transport systems, building, agriculture—the three most complicated areas? How do you create new jobs? How do you do this also in international contexts? How do you unleash investment?
When we said, “We want to be the first climate neutral continent by 2050,” we mapped out what that meant, what its consequences were. After careful analysis we concluded that we need to reduce our emissions between now and 2030 by 55 percent as compared to the situation in 1990.
And then we’ll start putting forward the legislation to make that happen to make sure we stay within this target. We’re now discussing with the co-legislators the so-called Climate Law that would set into law the need to decarbonize at that rate in that set timeframe.
Once we have that Climate Law, we will come up with legislation reforming the ETS system [EU Emissions Trading System]. Pushing towards a circular economy, reducing our dependency on fossil fuels—all of that is going to be part of the proposal we will be making before the summer.
Having said that, a conservative estimate is that we will need at least €350 billion ($423 billion) of investment each year for us to get to where we need to be. So that’s never going to be just a public-affairs issues. It has to mean that the whole structure of our economy should reorient—the way we invest, the way we operate—towards decarbonizing.
We can only create the right environment with the Climate Law; at the end of the day we can only facilitate this transition, a transition that will have to be carried by society and by the private sector, where most of the investment will come from.
Combining this need to decarbonize with a need to recover from the pandemic, we’ve been able to mobilize political support for $1.8 trillion in terms of possible investments in the coming years. It’s looking good, financial markets are really interested and there’s an ask for green bonds. But they will only work if these investments go into reshaping our economy. If we put it in the classic economy, they’ll soon become stranded assets. And we will have created extra debt for our kids without anything positive to show for ourselves. So here as well we have to have a joint agenda with the private sector to ensure that all the investments are heading toward the same goal.