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Challenges on the road to green growth: The European Union’s uphill battle

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The European Union’s ambitious plans for green growth have encountered numerous hurdles along the way, reflecting broader political and ideological conflicts. Despite widespread acknowledgment of the urgent need for action and the scientific evidence supporting it, initiatives such as the Energy Performance Buildings Directive and the Nature Restoration Law have faced contentious debates.

Now, the focus turns to the future of European industry, with the Net Zero Industry Act (NZIA) under scrutiny. This legislation aims to bolster renewable energy and storage capacity, promote investment and training, and identify priority projects to enhance the EU’s net-zero industry. However, like the Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA) passed earlier, the NZIA lacks comprehensive planning to drive the transition to climate neutrality effectively.

Both acts overlook the opportunity to integrate circularity principles into industrial planning and address the fossil fuel-intensive energy demands of the sector. While the Circular Economy Action Plan targets a doubling of recycled materials by 2030, progress has been slow, with signs of regression in recent years.

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Setting recycling targets at just 15%, as seen in the CRMA, falls short of what is needed to align with climate goals. Insufficient progress on circular material use not only jeopardizes climate targets but also poses risks to human health and the environment. Incidents like the leaking gypsum waste pond at the Talvivaara nickel mine in Finland underscore the consequences of lax environmental regulations and permitting rules.

Moreover, the industry’s transition to fully decarbonized energy sources has hit a plateau, according to the European Climate Neutrality Observatory (ECNO). Lobbyists advocating for unsustainable solutions like biofuels, blue hydrogen and carbon capture storage (CCS) further complicate matters, diverting attention from more effective strategies.

Political resistance to ambitious climate action, fueled by industry interests, presents a significant challenge. Calls for deregulation and industry-friendly policies undermine the urgency of addressing climate change and biodiversity loss. Yet, the consequences of inaction are dire, as emphasized by experts like Todd D. Stern, former United States Special Envoy for Climate Change.

The path forward requires bold thinking and rigorous analysis to overcome political obstacles and prioritize climate objectives over short-term industry interests. Transforming the industry is essential for innovation, energy security, and competitiveness, and it demands a concerted effort to ensure that climate and industrial objectives align harmoniously.

As the fate of the Green Deal hangs in the balance, it is crucial not to lose sight of the imperative to address climate change effectively. Failure to do so risks catastrophe, underscoring the need for decisive action and unwavering commitment to sustainability.

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