How an Ambitious Climate Bill Becomes a Landmark Climate Law

The story of green stimulus measures in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic is all about Europe. The bloc’s leaders agreed in July on a €750 billion ($895 billion)coronavirus rescue package, nearly a third of which would be devoted to decarbonization and promoting green technologies. That’s almost 10 times what other large economies are spending on climate-friendly stimulus, according to a September report from research firm Rhodium Group. The world hailed it as a watershed moment in climate policy, but that’s barely the half of it. The European Union’s green stimulus is bound up with the Green Deal, a plan to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for the bloc by 2050 that will necessitate a total overhaul of the European economy and trillions of euros in new investment. When you combine what’s in the virus rescue package with the climate-related spending outlined in the bloc’s next budget to support the Green Deal, that’s more than€500 billion in EU funding alone.

While it all sounds pretty straightforward, well, this is the EU. Here’s what still needs to happen before the Green Deal is fait accompli.

1. The first steps toward the Green Deal were taken in December when the European Council,


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populated by the heads of EU governments, bestowed its political blessing on the project.

$69.​9B Renewable power investment worldwide in Q2 2020 +0.​94° C Aug. 2020 increase in global temperature vs. 1900s average 87% Carbon-free net power in Brazil, most recent data

Spokane, U.S.Most polluted air today, in sensor range 0 6 5 4 3 2 0 3 2 1 0 9 0 4 3 2 1 0 .0 9 8 7 6 5 0 3 2 1 0 9 0 6 5 4 3 2 0 2 1 0 9 8 0 2 1 0 9 8 0 7 6 5 4 3 Parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere -40.​46% Today’s arctic ice area vs. historic average 0 5 4 3 2 1 ,0 3 2 1 0 9 0 4 3 2 1 0 0 5 4 3 2 1 Soccer pitches of forest lost this hour, most recent data

50,​820 Million metric tons of greenhouse emissions, most recent annual data

2. In March the European Commission introduced a measure to make the 2050 climate-neutrality goal a law. This will be the foundation for the rest of the Green Deal.

3. Now the law must be enacted. In the EU, putting a law into practice can take more than two years and involves balancing the quixotic, occasionally sclerotic preferences of the bloc’s many constituent parts.

4. Once a proposal has been presented by the European Commission, the members of the Council of the EU have to agree on how they feel about the policy—a challenging task given that there are 27 EU countries, each with its own set of policy priorities, different economic strengths and weaknesses, and vastly varying levels of wealth.

5. While that’s happening, the European Parliament has its own debate.

6. Wednesday is set to mark a big moment for the Green Deal. That’s when the European Commission plans to propose a more ambitious interim target for the bloc’s 2030 greenhouse gas emissions: likely a reduction of 55% from 1990 levels, vs. the current 40% goal. The new goal gets attached as an amendment to the original bill.

7. In October the Council of the EU


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will meet to determine its position on the 2050 law and the more ambitious interim goal. The European Parliament also aims to hold its vote in October.

8. Once the Council of the EU reaches a consensus and the European Parliament passes a version, they get together with the commission to bang out the final shape of the legislation. This is known as a trilogue (because there are three parties), and the process can take several weeks, often with final rounds of negotiation extending into the wee hours of the night.

9. The aim is to end the legislative work on the climate-neutrality law by the end of 2020—so relatively quickly—but it can’t be ruled out that the process will take longer. Once all is said and done, the new emissions targets will be binding.

10. In the meantime, the European Commission staff—civil servants—will be busy writing policies and reviewing rules on energy taxation, renewables, energy efficiency, the EU carbon market, emissions from cars, import charges on high-emission products, offshore wind, batteries, recycling, sustainable finance, emissions from farming, state aid for businesses—pretty much everything. If the Green Deal is the house, the 2050 law is the foundation and these new regulations will be the bricks.

11. The regulatory frenzy will begin next year, once the law is settled. Most of the new rules will need to be approved via the procedure explained in No. 4, meaning long months—if not years—of negotiations.

What’s ahead is a long and heated political debate as seemingly petty as it will be stultifying in its focus on policy minutiae. But it takes just a small step back to recognize that the larger project is one of epic stakes: sorting out the nitty-gritty details of a plan that seeks to transform the European economy to help avoid world-as-we-know-it-ending environmental changes. These mind-numbingly complex processes and policies will determine which industries and technologies will ultimately benefit from the EU’s green shift and will have major effects on our ability to withstand and adapt to climate change.

Illustrations: Nichole Shinn for Bloomberg Green

The main EU institutions are the European Commission, the bloc’s regulatory arm; the European Parliament, chosen in nationwide elections in each member state; and the Council of the EU, where ministers from national governments meet. Yes, the European Council and the Council of the EU are two different things.

One question mark is what signal ministers will get from heads of state who may discuss the issue when they meet a week earlier. While the Council of the EU decides by majority, the European Council decides by unanimous vote, so this could become even more complicated.

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