The EU Can’t Separate Climate Policy From Foreign Policy

How to Make the European Green Deal Succeed

In December 2019, the European Commission introduced the European Green Deal, an ambitious policy package intended to make the European Union’s economy environmentally sustainable. The goal is to decouple economic growth from the reliance on natural resources, especially fossil fuels, and to create an EU economy with zero net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050. This represents, to date, the most aggressive and far-reaching effort undertaken by a major economy to counter climate change.

To achieve this ambitious target, the EU will have to unleash a torrent of new climate and energy legislation. Among other steps, the bloc will need to expand its emission trading system—a “cap and trade” program that allows companies to swap allowances to emit greenhouse gases—to new sectors and close loopholes that allow some emissions to escape regulation. Meanwhile, the union will have to tighten energy efficiency standards, promote sustainable agriculture, and create incentives for producers and consumers to switch to renewable energy sources.

But the European Green Deal is more than just a domestic policy measure: it is an overhaul of the EU economy that will fundamentally change relations between the union and its trading partners. Its effects will be felt far beyond Europe’s borders. A transition away from fossil fuels that merely reduced the EU’s dependence would not do much to mitigate climate change, since the EU accounts for less than ten percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Worse, if the Green Deal reduced European emissions only by encouraging the EU’s trading partners to burn more fossil fuels, it would have no positive impact at all. The only way the policy can substantially affect climate change is if the EU works closely with countries outside the union, especially the energy exporters on which the EU relies. Simply put, the Green Deal cannot represent merely an environmental or economic reform: EU policymakers must treat it as a foreign policy initiative.

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