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Will Europe overcome the roadblocks on its path towards carbon neutrality?

More than half of the world population is called for a vote in 2024, including in the European Union (EU), the US and India, and global climate change is likely to play an essential role in all of them. The European Parliament (EP)’s elections for the new legislative period 2024-2029 are an opportunity to take stock of climate policy over the past five years. How has the outgoing European Commission's flagship initiative - the European Green Deal - progressed, and what are the expected priorities for the newly elected EP?

Implementing the European Green Deal

The European Green Deal, presented by the President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen in 2019, is the EU's most ambitious climate policy strategy, setting out a comprehensive path to achieving climate neutrality by 2050. At the end of this legislative period, almost all proposals under the European Green Deal have been adopted by the EP and the Council. In a record time, it enshrined into law the emissions reduction target of 55% compared to 1990 levels by 2030, the climate neutrality target for 2050 and significant reforms in areas such as transport, buildings, emissions reporting, the circular economy, renewable energies, energy efficiency and emissions trading.

Overall, climate action by the EU and Member States is impacting the continent's emissions trajectory, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 32.5% since 1990, especially over the last five years. However, a recent report by the European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change emphasises that despite the accelerated emissions reduction, achieving the EU's 2030 climate target requires a drastic acceleration in the pace of emissions reduction to more than double the 2005-2022 average.

Climate in the EU elections

Projections of the election results in June have led to speculation as to whether climate will remain at the top of the agenda of the next legislators. A recent forecast by the European Council of Foreign Relations (ECFR) suggests that populist, radical right-wing parties will gain votes, while centre-left and greens will lose votes, leading to a major political shift to the right. In the Council, too, we may expect more governments to be driven by the growing right-wing influence in domestic politics. It is, therefore, probable that more influential groups will be hostile to overly stringent climate measures in the next EP.

However, it is difficult to predict how this change will affect the EU's climate policy agenda concretely. Firstly, Europe’s objective to become carbon neutral by 2050 is quite consensual, and this is unlikely to be questioned by the new majority. Secondly, EU policy priorities are defined by a range of actors, including the European Commission and heads of state. Lastly, there is no clear correlation between the position of parties on the political spectrum and their stance on climate change. Climate change has traditionally been a topic of left parties, but in some countries and at the EU level, it has become a cross-partisan issue. Studies of far-right parties' positions on climate change also show considerable heterogeneity on the issue.

Citizen perceptions of climate policies: navigating between declaration, perceived and actual impacts

To achieve climate targets and fulfil the EU's legal obligations under the European Climate Law and the Paris Agreement, climate legislation must be backed by broad public support. The current situation calls for analysing citizens’ perceptions of climate change and climate policy.

The 2022 Eurobarometer survey found that 88% of EU respondents agree that emissions should be reduced to a minimum while offsetting the remaining emissions for a climate-neutral EU economy by 2050. However, citizens seem to be less inclined to alter their consumption and lifestyle patterns than declared. Climate action is often perceived as expensive and top-down, and growing concerns about the cost of living, job losses in sectors such as coal, agriculture, and fisheries, and increasing bureaucracy often outweigh citizens’ declared concerns about climate.

The first survey results of our Horizon Europe project CAPABLE are expected to be published a few months and will shed light on the citizens’ perceptions of climate policies.


Rethinking the climate policy mix to encompass science and citizens

The recent crises showed that energy and climate policies must be integrated into a balanced policy mix, combining competitiveness, decarbonisation, and societal objectives to succeed. It is, therefore, crucial to design climate policies that address concerns such as competitiveness, regional development, health, poverty, and inequality. Better communication is also needed to show that reducing emissions is not an end in itself but brings important co-benefits to citizens. For example, measures such as the recently adopted EU Emissions Trading Scheme 2 for the transport and building sectors will generate revenues that can be redistributed and used for investments in green technologies via a Social Climate Fund.

The policies should be grounded on credible scientific results. As the European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change recommended in its report, the EU should “base its policies on a systematic impact assessment and ex-post evaluations of the socio-economic impact of climate policies and measures to ensure a just transition and effective implementation.”

Focusing on these co-benefits and involving citizens and science in decision-making could be the most effective way to advance the EU's climate policy agenda in times of increasing political fragmentation.


Albert Ferrari is a Research Associate at the Climate Area of the Florence School of Regulation. He coordinates the daily activities of the Area, including stakeholder engagement, administration, research and dissemination. Since 2022, he leads the participation of FSR in the Energy Communities Repository of the European Commission. As of 2023, Albert is also managing the participation of the unit in the projects LIFE COASE, CAPABLE and SPES. 

Lea Heinrich is a Project Associate at the Climate Area of the Florence School of Regulation, where she supports the LIFE COASE project. Before joining FSR Climate, she worked in Brussels as Policy Advisor at the European Association of Services of General Interest SGI Europe and as trainee in the European Parliament and in political consultancies.