From UNGA's sidelines, a reminder about Europe's Green Deal

Frans Timmermans, the European commissioner for climate action, argues for the need to put a price on carbon.
The European Commission's Frans Timmermans
The European Commission's Frans Timmermans
Photo: Julien Warnand/Pool via Reuters (Reuters)
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Frans Timmermans, the European commissioner for climate action, came to the Clinton Global Initiative conference in New York with both a message and a reminder for attendees of the event on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

The message: “If you want to decarbonize the economy, you have to put a price on carbon.And then,” the Dutch diplomat added,if you put a price on carbon, the risk is always that it becomes punitive for people that already are underneath a lot of costs,” which suggests an additional need to “reinvent redistribution.”

All of which served as a necessary reminder: The Green Deal still exists.

What is the Green Deal?

Presented at the end of 2019, the Green Deal—not to be confused with the US Democrats’ failed attempt that same year at passing a Green New Deal—is the European Commission’s plan for making the EU climate neutral by 2050. The set of policies was hailed for its potential global impact, and was expected to help Europe recover from the covid-19 pandemic.

But now? “There’s almost no one in Europe who thinks about the Green Deal today because they’re thinking about their energy bills, which have exploded,” Timmermans said on a climate policy panel at the CGI conference on Sept. 19. “The only way we can get people’s bills lower is renewables, because the age of very cheap fossil-fuel energy is over; it is not coming back.”

The Ukraine war could hasten the shift to renewable energy

With Russia’s war in Ukraine interrupting the continent’s gas supply, Europe has extra incentive to rapidly increase the production of renewable energy and install more heat pumps, solar panels, and offshore wind turbines, Timmermans said.

Decarbonization and resilience

Timmermans and his fellow panelists also tackled questions about prioritizing decarbonization or resilience. You need both, suggested Charlie Baker, the governor of Massachusetts.

“I know resiliency isn’t the sexiest part of this whole drill, but if your community floods out every time it rains, or if the main bridge that people [use to] get in and out of your community floods out every time it thinks about raining, you have serious, negative consequences to those communities that we should be addressing along the way here,” he said.

Baker also trumpeted the fact that nearly all of his state’s municipalities have taken part in a grant program to undergo vulnerability planning and build infrastructure to be more resilient to climate change.

Building on the “both-and” versus “either-or” approach, Nili Gilbert, vice chair of the carbon management advisor Carbon Direct, pointed to the rebuilding of schools in the Caribbean that also can serve as more resilient emergency shelters during hurricanes. “When we’re doing one thing,” she said, “we need to think, ‘How can I do five things with this one act?’”