An in-depth analysis of the European Commission’s climate change, Green Deal, environment, oceans and fisheries policies by Open Access Government
The European Commission’s Directorate-General for Climate Action (DG CLIMA) oversees the EU and global efforts to combat climate change. Its primary objective is to develop and implement EU climate policy and action plans to enable the EU to become its first carbon-neutral and climate-resilient continent before 2050.
The role of DG CLIMA in developing and implementing legislation and cost-effective policies to deliver the European Green Deal is discussed in more detail in this editorial. The DG supports cutting-edge decarbonisation solutions to combat global warming and aims to promote prosperity and well-being, fostering a new climate change culture in Europe and changing behaviour across society.
DG CLIMA maintains high ambition regarding global climate action, safeguarding the ozone layer and expanding the international and domestic carbon markets. This department also helps with greening finance, ensuring climate change is considered in the EU budget plus EU and Member States policies. (1)
The notable leaders in DG CLIMA at the time of writing are Wopke Hoekstra (European Commissioner for Climate Action), Kurt Vandenberghe (Director-General), and Yvon Slingenberg (Acting Deputy Director-General). (2)
At the European Climate Stocktake event in October 2023, Commissioner Hoekstra made clear that global emissions of greenhouse gases must reach a peak no later than 2025 – to ensure global temperature rises below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The science is also evident in what needs to be done next. By 2030, we need to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 43% compared to 2019. “And by 2050, we need to have reached net-zero CO2 emissions, along with deep reduction in other greenhouse gas emissions,” Commissioner Hoekstra said.
“That is the only way we – as a global community – will be able to make a 1.5C future a reality,” Commissioner Hoekstra underscored.
In addition, Commissioner Hoekstra highlighted the “Fit for 55” package, the most robust legislative framework in the world for climate change mitigation. Once the whole thing is up and running, the EU will be able to cut its net emissions by a whopping 57% from where they were in 1990, according to Commissioner Hoekstra.
Commissioner Hoekstra thinks it’s essential to be ambitious and act. That’s why he will propose to the College of EU Commissioners to reduce emissions by a minimum of 90% net by 2040. Commissioner Hoekstra said that cooperation between people, civil society and businesses is the only way to ensure effective climate action.
According to scientific evidence, the associated risk is expected to increase over the next two decades. Climate change impacts are before our eyes, for instance, in wildfires across Greece, floods in Italy, Slovenia, and Sweden due to hefty rainfall, and drought across France and Spain, which affect water supply and food production.
Implementing robust global climate mitigation measures will contribute to a decrease in the rate of climate change. (3)
Green Deal policy
In August 2023, we heard that Executive Vice-President Timmermans resigned, and Vice-President Šefčovič took over his duties (until a new Member of the Commission of Dutch nationality is appointed). President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, thanked Frans Timmermans, renowned for his enthusiasm and commitment to implementing the European Green Deal. The President trusts that Vice-President Šefčovič will lead the effort to protect the climate and the European Green Deal in the most ambitious manner possible. (4)
Interestingly, most Europeans (93%) believe climate change is a significant global issue, according to a Eurobarometer survey released in July 2023. More than half (58%) believe that the shift towards a greener economy should be accelerated due to energy price hikes and worries about gas supplies following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The European Green Deal is at the top of the European Commission’s agenda. This deal will make the EU green, resource-efficient, and competitive, with no one left behind.
As Frans Timmermans pointed out, Europeans are aware of the risks of climate change and continue to advocate for climate action by the European Union, national governments, businesses and citizens. They acknowledge the potential long-term consequences of the current biodiversity and climate crises. They also recognise the potential to construct a healthier, brighter, safer future if we act immediately on the green transition.
“The results of this survey are a powerful reminder that popular support to advance with the European Green Deal remains as high as ever. It is up to politicians and decision-makers to heed that call,” Timmermans said. (5)
I was particularly interested in some of the comments Timmermans made during the July 2023 plenary debate at the European Parliament on the delivery of the Green Deal on responsibility. As responsible leaders, we must look at reality, notes EVP Timmermans. EVP Timmermans added that no matter what planetary boundaries are in place, we cannot guarantee a habitable planet without restoring the natural environment. (6)
Environment, oceans and fisheries policy
The Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE) seeks to promote sustainable management of the ocean’s resources and contribute to the long-term prosperity of coastal communities and the fishing industry. In addition, DG MARE supports maritime policies, encourages a sustainable blue economy and supports ocean governance at the international level.
The respected leaders at DG MARE are Virginijus Sinkevičius (European Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries), Charlina Vitcheva (Director-General) and Sadauskas Kestutis (Deputy Director-General). (7)
An earlier edition of this publication featured a comprehensive discourse by Charlina Vitcheva on the sustainable use of ocean resources, thriving coastal communities and a profitable fishing sector in Europe. It’s worth checking out. (8)
Florika Fink-Hooijer is the Director-General at the Directorate-General for Environment. (9) This Commission department is responsible for developing and implementing policies to protect the environment and enhance the quality of life for EU citizens. (10) Patrick Anthony Child is the Deputy Director-General. (11)
One key objective of Commissioner Sinkevičius is to ensure that the fisheries, environment and oceans remain at the heart of the European Green Deal. Another is to present a new Natura 2000 biodiversity strategy for 2030, which aims to combat deforestation, habitats, and species and promote sustainable oceans and seas
A novel approach for a sustainable blue economy based on scientific study, maritime spatial planning, marine renewable energy resources, blue investments, and regional collaboration is another. (12)
At the Nature Event hosted by the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), Commissioner Sinkevičius delivered a keynote address. It’s interesting to see that the triple ecological crisis is underlined. It’s easy to think of climate, biodiversity and pollution as three separate problems, but they’re all connected. Each makes the other worse, both in the short and long term.
“We can’t solve climate change without restoring nature. We can’t restore nature if we continue to pollute. And when we pollute and degrade ecosystems, we exacerbate climate change,” Commissioner Sinkevičius commented.
Further on in the speech, we are introduced to the Nature Restoration Law, a concerted endeavour to repair the damage throughout Europe. It is inextricably linked to the European Climate Law and the EU’s objective to achieve climate neutrality and a climate-resilient society by 2050.
The proposal aims to reinstate ecosystems, species and habitats in 20% of the EU’s land and 20% of sea areas by 2030 and all areas requiring restoration by 2030. In this spirit, the Commission demonstrates to the world how those commitments can be delivered in a sensible, ambitious and equitable way.
The Global Biodiversity Framework complements the Paris Agreement and must be fully implemented. In addition, it will require the commitment of governments and societies to put it into practice. (13)
The Commission announced in October 2023 that it will set total allowable catches (TACs) for 18 stocks in the EU Atlantic, Kattegat, and Skagerrak waters for 2024. Based on scientific advice, the proposal applies to fish stocks managed exclusively by the EU in these sea basins.
The Commission is again following ICES advice and is proposing 12 TACs based on Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY), which is the maximum number of fish that can be taken out of the sea by fishers without hurting the recovery and future success of the stock. This would increase catch limits for the following five stocks: anglerfish, hake, megrims, horse mackerel in Iberian waters and plaice in Kattegat.
The press release provides a wealth of information pertinent to the overall policy of sustainable fishing that has advanced significantly in the EU. 80% of the total allowable catch (TACs) in 2022 were set at MSY levels, which means the stocks will be healthy, and fishers can rely on them. In 2009, TACs were only 14%. It’s also worth looking at a Questions and Answers piece on 2024 Fishing Opportunities in the Atlantic, Kattegat and Skagerrak for more detail.
Commissioner Sinkevičius pointed out that the proposal results from everyone working together – fishers, the Member States, and the Commission – to gather fisheries data and make it easier for scientists to figure out what’s happening with the stocks. “We have seen an increase in the number of stocks that can be fished at the maximum levels allowing for their sustainability, which speaks of the good recovery of the stocks,” Commissioner Sinkevičius commented. (14)
You may also be interested in learning about adopting the Commission’s proposal for 2024 fishing opportunities for the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea. Sinkevičius stated that this proposal aims to achieve sustainably managed fisheries in the Mediterranean and Black Seas. “We must continue building on the positive trends of recent years and step up our efforts to ensure that stocks recover for the benefit of local communities,” Commissioner Sinkevičius said. (15)
In August 2023, the Commission announced its 2024 fishing plans for the Baltic Sea based on a scientific evaluation that found several fishing stocks were in serious trouble. “I am increasingly worried about the effects of the Baltic Sea ecosystem’s degradation on fish stocks and the multiple food chains that depend on them. The urgency of taking action to address these changes is becoming more evident every year,” Commissioner Sinkevičius explained.
It’s up to us to do something about it so that local fishers can return to relying on healthy fish for their living, Commissioner Sinkevičius noted. “EU environmental legislation needs to be fully implemented if we want to turn around the current situation of the Baltic,” Commissioner Sinkevičius added. (16)
For the first time, the European Commission proposed actions to prevent microplastic pollution from the accidental discharge of plastic pellets. This proposal, made in October 2023, seeks to guarantee that all entities handling pellets within the EU take the necessary “precautionary measures”. This is projected to result in a 74% reduction in pellet release, meaning cleaner ecosystems, helping towards plastic-free rivers and oceans, and lowering possible human health risks.
“What can be found both in the depths of ocean and at the summit of Mount Everest, mostly invisible to the human eye, yet present in our bloodstream, and will not disappear for thousands of years? Yes, that’s right, microplastics. Once these small particles of plastic are in our environment, they are almost impossible to clean up, Commissioner Sinkevičius said. (17)
Our beloved planet Earth
I hope this extensive policy piece has given you tremendous insight into the European Commission’s policies concerning our beloved planet Earth. Whether it’s climate policy, the Europe Green Deal or the fisheries, environment and oceans, we wish the European Commission all the best as they strive to safeguard our land and seas.