2024 EU Elections: Crucial Test For Climate Commitments

The Climate Group

As the dust settles after the 10th election of the European Parliament, the critical question is what the priorities will be for the next five years, how the new leadership will achieve those, and above all: what role the climate will play.

It is clear we are in a very different scenario than in 2019 when a green wave hit Brussels and Ursula von der Leyen announced the European Green Deal within her first 100 days in office. She defined it as “Europe’s man on the moon moment”. With power dynamics shifting within the bloc, the key question is if von der Leyen is ready to protect her flagship initiative, or if she will turn her back on her last-term promises.

In a way, Europe had its ‘golden age of climate action’ during that last term – with key legislation to protect the environment and fight climate change. Whether the first EU Climate Law or the “Fit For 55” package, the EU set ambitious targets to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 and achieve climate neutrality in 2050.

Along the way, however, the EU has often been criticised for overregulation. Farmers’ protests erupted outside EU buildings in a call to scrap environmental policies to solve cost-of-living issues; ironically, it is exactly these types of costs that would be brought down through efficient environmental policies. Without further climate action, the challenges that farmers are currently facing will inevitably only increase, with more extreme climate-related events such as heatwaves, floods, and droughts across the continent, potentially impacting not only Europe’s energy security but also its access to food.

The EU now stands at a crossroads. Continue the legacy of the European Green Deal and bank on the huge investments the EU has already made to transition towards a resource-efficient and competitive economy. Or backtrack on its ambition, with potentially immense costs for the economy and irreparable damage to our planet.

For example, reopening the agreed phase-out of the sale of new combustion engine cars in the EU by 2035, as some members of the European People’s Party (EPP) political group are calling for, would hamper the current transition towards road transport electrification – putting the EU’s competitiveness at risk and jeopardising the enormous investments already made. The EU should instead push for the electrification of vehicles with a strong industrial policy.

Ultimately, the EU can choose to maintain its climate leadership and retain its geopolitical competitiveness with the US and China, which downplay the climate reality. It would be a disaster for the planet and for the entire EU economy, its jobs and innovation, condemning its people to a difficult future.

After the 2019 elections, pro-European parties consensually adopted a “cordon sanitaire” to stop far-right, anti-establishment -and often climate-denying- political parties from disrupting EU values. Five years on, will these values still be protected?

While political negotiations intensify and nationalist parties in Europe’s biggest economies gain significant ground, EU leaders should focus their energies on protecting the EU Green Deal, implementing current legislation to create new jobs, boost the global competitiveness of the EU, raise living standards, and accelerate the transition to climate neutrality by setting out roadmaps for key industries. What does this mean in practice? It would require ramping up renewables capacity, accelerating the shift to EVs, supporting heavy industry with emissions reduction, and cutting emissions across the food chain.

In turbulent political times, with an unprecedented number of elections across the world, the need for EU leadership is greater than ever. To remain relevant to the needs of their societies, and competitive in a rapidly changing world, the EU should not roll back on agreed legislation and continue to champion a net zero emissions economy inclusive for all.

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