Energy measures will target both production and use. Security of supply and affordability for consumers and businesses should be achieved in part through progression of the internal energy market and promotion of interconnectors between EU Member States. Offshore wind is the only technology specifically mentioned. Decarbonisation of the gas sector – to date lagging far behind the electricity sector – will also be progressed. Improvement in energy systems assumes a level of technological innovation, across the sector, in fuel, infrastructure and energy services. Priority areas where breakthrough technologies are needed – and may be subsidised - include clean hydrogen, fuel cells, energy storage and carbon capture, storage and utilisation. The Hydrogen Strategy, published on 8 July 2020, shows that the Commission is placing a large bet on the scale development of renewable hydrogen, particularly for those industries which are hard to electrify or otherwise decarbonise.
A Strategy for Energy System Integration was also published on 8 July 2020. This initiative aims to increase efficiency and reduce carbon emissions by better linking the different energy systems across the EU, including not just electricity and gas but also vehicles (vehicle-to-grid) and industry as a producer of heat.
The Commission will rely on Member States' National Energy and Climate Plans to mirror its ambition and provide the specifics of achieving energy sector decarbonisation. How it reacts when that ambition is misaligned with its own remains to be seen (for example, Germany recently announced a coal phase-out by 2038).
The Commission cites raw material extraction and material processing as responsible for 90% of biodiversity loss and water stress. Although the EU considers itself on the right track – it first proposed circular economy measures in 2014 – new measures will be designed to accelerate progress. A new circular economy strategy was published in March 2020, which aims to "make sustainable products, services and business models the norm and transform consumption patterns so that no waste is produced in the first place". Although an earlier version of the communication, leaked in January 2020, provided that only "safe, circular and sustainable products" may be placed on the market by 2030, this concrete commitment was missing from the final plan.
A sustainable product framework initiative will address high impact products including textiles, construction products, electronics and plastics. Ecodesign measures for electrical products have traditionally regulated energy efficiency and only more recently included requirements such as durability and recyclability. These aspects are likely to take a more central role in upcoming proposals, which could include requirements to use recycled content in product materials and a consumer "right to repair". Sustainable, recyclable and reusable products will also support the reduction of waste. Products are likely to be accompanied by an "electronic product passport", which will contain mandatory digital information allowing for easier management of the product whether in terms of reuse, repair, upgrade or remanufacturing. The market for "secondary raw materials" will be improved by standardisation and harmonisation of rules on end-of-waste status and by-products.
The EU will take further action against "green washing", including introducing a standard methodology for the assessment of environmental claims to prevent those which are unsubstantiated or false reaching consumers.
An early stage consultation on consumer information on the environment and sustainability, launched in June 2020, addresses several of the above issues, including repairability, early obsolescence, greenwashing and green labelling, but there is, as yet, no firm commitment to a product passport.
A consultation on the revision of rules on waste shipments was launched in March 2020, and the existing Waste Shipments Regulation is to be amended to shift the focus away from waste exports, where waste can be prepared for reuse or recycling or treated within the EU, with a possible ban on exports of waste with harmful environmental or health impacts. A commitment to dispose of waste at home is a natural consequence, perhaps, of the Chinese waste ban and measures against plastic waste by countries like Indonesia and India.
New and amended waste rules are expected to cover food, end-of-life vehicles, and electronic products, and proposals have already been released in respect of batteries (where new battery technologies will be addressed) and packaging, both in June 2020. It is expected that a revision to the 1994 Packaging Directive may require all plastic packaging to be reusable or recyclable by 2030.
The Commission intends to level the playing field for European businesses by supporting a global agreement on plastics which would address the entire lifecycle of products, reducing land, water and ocean pollution as a result.
Transport emissions must be reduced by 90% in 2050 in order to meet the carbon neutrality goal. The Commission's proposals for a Transport Strategy were published for consultation in July 2020. A shift in transport policy will have a particular impact on individuals, with the Commission noting that viable alternatives will have to be offered and pricing based on environmental impact may be needed in order to change travellers' current habits. Railways and inland waterways should absorb some of the inland freight traffic; measures to increase their capacity will be proposed by 2021. The shipping sector will be encouraged to adopt renewable fuels, via the new FuelEU Maritime initiative – a consultation on a new directive was launched in July 2020. Aviation emissions are to be tackled by resurrecting the Single European Sky (SES) programme, which would adjust aircraft routes to minimise the amount of fuel burned. Originally launched in 1999, SES aimed to reduce emissions by up to 10% but has not delivered to date and largely been abandoned.
The EU ETS will be extended to shipping, and airline allocations will decrease as the Commission implements the ICAO's Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) (a consultation was launched in July 2020). This should drive the move towards greener aviation fuels. Extensive new infrastructure will be needed to support a rapid growth in electric vehicles, with diesel and petrol vehicles being squeezed out of the market by stricter emissions limits from mid-2021. The Commission has published a consultation on proposed new Euro 7 emissions standards for cars, vans, lorries and buses, possibly to include previously unregulated pollutants.
The focus of energy efficiency measures in the construction sector has been on the efficiency of new buildings and has been successful, resulting in approximately 50% energy savings between buildings constructed in 2019 compared to 1980. As well as improving enforcement of existing building efficiency measures and potentially bringing buildings inside the EU ETS, the Green Deal will focus on a "Renovation Wave" for existing buildings, as detailed in a consultation published in May 2020. Public and private, commercial and residential buildings will all be covered.
The Commission will propose a "zero pollution action plan" for air, water and soil in 2021. This will include revising air quality standards aligning them more closely (possibly not completely) with WHO recommendations. It notes the need to both simplify and strengthen the chemicals regulatory framework (despite the chemicals industry having now come to terms with the fiendishly complex REACH Regulation), in order to improve health and environmental protection and increase global competitiveness. Further substances could be subject to restriction, notably endocrine disruptors, chemicals in products, and substances causing harm through a combination effect.
ECOSYSTEMS AND BIODIVERSITY
The Commission notes that the EU is not meeting all of its international obligations under the Convention on Biological Diversity. Its new Biodiversity Strategy was published in May 2020, and will be presented to the Convention's Conference of the Parties in October 2020. The Commission will prepare a new forest strategy (a public consultation on the roadmap has already taken place), with the aim of preserving and restoring existing forests and creating new ones, with a focus on the impact of wood and timber products placed on the EU market. A maritime strategy will take account of the IPCC's special report on oceans and recognise the importance of offshore renewable energy; an Ocean Energy roadmap was published in May 2020.
FOOD AND FARMING
The Commission's aim is for European food to become "the global standard for sustainability". The "Farm to Fork" communication was published in May 2020. The Green Deal approach addresses all stages of the food chain, from primary production of animal and plant foods, through consumer food choices and food waste. Member States' national strategic plans for agriculture should focus on and reward performance rather than compliance.