Europe is going for green growth

The most recent meeting of the European Council, on March 20–21 in Brussels, was overshadowed by the events in Ukraine. The Council nonetheless managed to discuss a number of other important issues, including the first phase of the European Semester, the implementation of the Europe 2020 Strategy, the need for stronger European industrial competitiveness as a driver for economic growth and jobs, and the framework for climate and energy in the period from 2020 to 2030.

Strangely enough none of these non-Ukraine issues (with the exception of the Banking Union) was reported on in the media. This is all the more remarkable given the coming elections for the European Parliament on May 22–26 and the increasingly frantic debate in the media of all things European these days.

Our own interest was drawn in particular to what the European Council concluded with respect to the framework for climate and energy. In this context, the Council emphasized the significance of the UN Climate Summit in September 2014 (announcing that “the specific EU target for 2030 for greenhouse gas emission reductions will be fully in line with the agreed ambitious EU objective for 2050”) and the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties in Paris in December 2015 (confirming that “the European Union will submit its contribution at the latest by the first quarter of 2015, as should all major economies”).

As to the framework itself, this was presented in four pages of detailed “principles”, “elements”, and “objectives”—all exemplifying what the Council called “the important link between the Europe 2020 Strategy, industrial competitiveness, and climate and energy policies.” Thus a key aspect of the new framework for climate and energy is the contribution it is supposed to make to “green growth”—a phrase that is not used by the Council, but that is obviously a cornerstone of this framework.

Our conclusion that the European Council has now in full conscience taken the road to green growth is confirmed by the recent activities of The Green Growth Group. This group, an informal network of thirteen European ministers and state secretaries responsible for climate and energy, was inaugurated at the Green Growth Summit on October 28, 2013, in Brussels. At that summit the group also presented its report called “Going for green growth: The case for ambitious and immediate EU low carbon action”.

The origin of the Green Growth Group remains somewhat of a mystery, but it is clear that the initiative was taken by the British secretary of state for energy and climate change Edward Davey, and he clearly is also the group’s informal leader. Apart from the United Kingdom, the following EU member states participate: Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden.

In the public opinion, skepticism and criticism prevail with respect to the role of the United Kingdom in the EU—something that may have much to do with the EU referendum that has been announced by prime minister David Cameron for after the elections in 2015 (of course, only if the Conservatives win). But in real life perfidious Albion turns out to play a prominent role regarding one of the most important and urgent issues on the agenda of the EU.

“Going for Green Growth” was not the first time that the necessity of green growth was called to our attention and that the manifold opportunities to achieve this were pointed out. For a strong example, we refer to the green growth program of the OECD and to the series of reports published in that context since 2011. But we know of no document where the analysis is presented in such a compact and convincing way, and where the message is so crystal clear, as in this report by The Green Growth Group.

The report recommends the following three “immediate priority EU actions”: (1) offer investors and the private sector the certainty of an ambitious and target-based low carbon policy for the long term, that is, especially for the post-2020 period; (2) reform the structure of the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS)—increase the price of carbon so that ETS remains the most important climate instrument to cut emissions cheaply and to stimulate low carbon investments; (3) put an ambitious EU emissions reduction offer on the table, to ensure the opportunity offered by the Ban Ki Moon Climate Summit in the autumn of 2014 and the official UN Climate Summit in Paris at the end of 2015.

In short, The Green Growth Group deserves praise for its splendid work on the issues of energy, climate change, and green growth. Obviously the ideas of Ed Davey and his colleagues have impressed the European Council, which in March has acknowledged and endorsed the conclusions and recommendations of “Going for Green Growth”. We think this reflects an important new reality within the EU: the Green Growth Group, next to the Euro Group, is here to stay.

Ruud Lubbers is a former Dutch Prime Minister and Paul van Seters is a professor at Tilburg University.

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