The EU’s industrial strategy needs more action on climate

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

A change of attitude is needed is the EU is to hit its Green Deal goals, argue Henrike Hahn, Rosa D’Amato, Damien Carême and Ignazio Corrao. [Jenson / Shutterstock]

A change of attitude is needed if the EU is to hit its Green Deal goals, argue Henrike Hahn, Rosa D’Amato, Damien Carême, and Ignazio Corrao, who say the European Commission must get its priorities in order and accept its climate responsibilities, rather than delegate strategic choices to industries and companies themselves.

Henrike Hahn, Rosa D’Amato, Damien Carême, and Ignazio Corrao are members of the Green group in the European Parliament

The industrial revolution drove the complete transformation of our societies, economic model and lifestyles.

Today, we are on the precipice of another world-changing era and whether or not we meet the needs of people and planet will define our future. Unfortunately, the Commission’s long-awaited industrial strategy fails to deliver on expectations and undermines the EU’s chance to meet the goals of the European Green Deal.

Unless the attitude of both the Commission and the member states changes substantively, Europe risks being left behind as the world changes to face the challenges of the future.

The COVID-19 pandemic created a new socio-economic reality in Europe and around the globe, and it is necessary to adapt the current proposals for the industrial strategy. The pandemic has added urgency in the need to speed up our efforts to tackle climate change and the biodiversity crisis.

2020 was the hottest year on record. The industrial sector amounts to 40% of EU emissions and logically stands out as one of the key areas for action. This is why the EU’s Industrial Strategy must be in alignment with the European Green Deal.

The story of greening EU industry is also about competitiveness and creating jobs. Since the release of the Industrial Strategy, not only the EU, but also the UK, Japan, South Korea and the US have announced their commitments to climate or carbon neutrality by 2050. China has committed to carbon neutrality by 2060.

The global competition for green technologies and sustainable innovations is in full swing and the EU is at a crossroads.

The main problem of Commissioner Breton’s strategy is that it stops short; it does not envisage clear preferences or goals for the decarbonisation of industrial sectors and presents little concrete actions.

The lack of real commitment to ambitious greening of EU industry is exemplified by the strategy for the steel sector accompanying the revised strategy. The Commission acknowledges that steel production requires a radical change, but it does not set a clear preference for ‘green steel’.

On the contrary, it simply lists all the available options, such as CCS and CCU, used to capture, store and utilise carbon emitted during industrial processes, even when at odds with the EU’s climate neutrality and environmental objectives.

The Commission declares that steel has the potential of becoming a fully circular material, but foresees no concrete measures to encourage the use of steel scraps over virgin steel and to incentivise the creation of a viable market for secondary materials.

Similarly, when addressing the environmental impact of steel production, it merely focuses on reducing GHG emissions rather than taking into account other polluting and harmful substances and their negative impacts.

What is missing are precisely those elements that EU industrial transformation needs. This means clear proposals for coordinated and massive investments in renewables energies and innovative sustainable processes but also binding targets of emissions reductions sector by sector.

It means making the stimulus and recovery funds conditional on industries’ compliance with the EU’s climate, energy and environmental objectives and ensuring that no EU funds go to fossil fuel projects that would have a lock-in effect.

It means building on the circular economy and drawing concrete and binding steps towards resource reduction and energy savings. It is also about time to stop multiplying “industrial alliances” that are in reality dominated by private interests, allowing them to unduly influence EU policy making.

Besides key investments in education, research and innovation, there are multiple suitable climate related investments able to provide simultaneously essential stimuli to COVID recovery and to the long-term transformation of European industry.

Successful decarbonisation of industry will be close to impossible without green hydrogen. However, for green hydrogen we need the parallel strong push of renewable energies in times of sufficient wind and sun to realise this ambition.

This includes areas such as the deep energy renovation of building stock, the expansion of renewable energies, the development of fully renewables based hydrogen, a supportive policy framework for creating a zero emissions heavy industry or the development of charging infrastructure for electric vehicles, just to name a few.

This should be a wake-up call for the policy makers. The Commission needs to get its priorities in order and not shirk its climate responsibilities, nor delegate strategic choices to industries and companies themselves.

The Commission has to be more ambitious in its upcoming legislative proposals. The “Fit For 55” climate package, expected on 14 July, must not end up as an empty shell. Instead, it should allow the EU to get back on the front towards the climate neutrality goal. There is no more time to waste.

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