Why the EU’s Green Deal really could well be its ‘Man-on-Moon moment’

The European Commission’s president Ursula von der Leyen was not afraid to use bold language to describe the European Green Deal, her plan to remake achieve climate neutrality by 2050 by remaking the bloc’s economy. “This is Europe’s ‘man on the Moon’ moment,” she said as she unveiled the Green Deal. “The old growth model that is based on fossil fuels and pollution is out of date and out of touch with our planet.”

A colossal scope

For some, that might sound bombastic. But the scale of the plan is indeed gigantic – and not just in transport and mobility, which accounts for more than a quarter (27%) of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, Ms von der Leyen said the Green Deal is more than about cutting emissions, it is also a new European growth strategy. She vowed to “leave no-one behind” as she aimed to reconcile “our economy with our planet”.

The plan effectively stakes Europe’s economic future on an environmental clean-up that will overhaul businesses and trade relations. The scope is colossal. It includes proposals like an EU Climate Law setting a 2050 net-zero emissions target, a carbon border tax, a new Circular Economy Action Plan, a zero-pollution ambition, and a strategy for sustainable and smart mobility.

And the costs are mind-boggling. Meeting the zero-emissions target could mean as much as €290 billion a year in extra investment for energy systems and infrastructure representing about 1.5% of 2018 GDP.

Climate Emergency is real

The Commission says the Green Deal is emphatic because the climate emergency is real. And it is not just about money, but about changing a system. There are concrete measures for the transport sector, like a plan to end aviation’s excise duty tax holiday, make sure shipping pays for its emissions and mandate the deployment of clean fuels and technology. It will remove subsidies for fossil fuels so that oil companies could end up paying tens of billions more in taxes.

It plans to move to completely zero-emission cars and vans through a combination of new standards, ubiquitous charging infrastructure and green batteries. It also includes plans for a final set of pollutant emission standards for cars, vans, buses, trucks with a combustion engine (euro 7).

The Green Deal will face scrutiny from governments, MEPs and stakeholders as its different parts move through the EU regulatory machine. And if the challenge to change Europe is not enough, it also needs global support to affect an overall change in emissions and temperatures.

Taking bold action

But it also comes after hundreds of millions of people have taken to the streets over the past year of climate strikes. Part of this unprecedented political momentum comes from the ‘Greta effect’, named after Swedish schoolgirl campaigner Greta Thunberg, who epitomises the public pressure over the climate emergency. Named Time magazine’s Person of the Year on the day the Green Deal was announced, she has become the most powerful voice on the biggest issue facing the planet.

There is powerful political energy behind the Green Deal. This is a moment when the EU senses its responsibility take bold action to meet its low carbon and sustainability vision. It may take time, but it will have an effect that could indeed rival the Moon mission.