On 14 July 2021 the European Commission presented its climate protection project ‘Fit for 55’ for implementing Europe’s climate legislation. As a whole, the merits of Fit for 55 are mixed. Although it contains steps in the right direction it also has points in urgent need of improvement in the sense of strong climate protection and social justice.
The Fit for 55 package is only a recommendation and has to be negotiated in the coming months between the EU’s co-legislative bodies, the European Parliament and the EU Council (made up of the governments of Member States). This means that the present recommendation can be watered down or improved, according to what political majorities there are in the European Parliament and the Council.
To begin with what is most striking, the EU’s climate goal of 55% less greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030 in comparison to the 1990s level is not upgraded in Fit for 55. What is more, the agreed on 55% is no where near enough for the EU to enable the 1.5-degree limit. There is a consensus among scientists that the reduction goal for the EU has to be at least 65% if not even 70%.
In addition, the proposed European expansion target for renewable energy by 2030 in the Fit for 55 package was, it is true, raised from the previous 32% to 40%, but this is equally inadequate for complying with the Paris Climate Agreement. For we need at least 50% renewables in the European energy mix to achieve the socio-ecological reconstruction of our economy. The welcome plans to convert Europe’s steel industry to climate-friendly, green hydrogen energy alone require a much greater expansion of renewable in order to produce a sufficient quantity of green hydrogen.
In the Fit for 55 package, the European Commission has failed to propose nationally binding expansion goals for renewable energy, which could have more strongly compelled the Member States to respect European goals.
kt: Kiloton; LULUCF: land use, land use change and forestry
This graph shows the quantity of emitted greenhouse gases by sector. The energy-supply, industry, and transport sectors are particularly CO2-intensive. The transport sector shows a clear increase in emissions since 2014.
Agriculture hardly plays a role in the Fit for 55 package. In its Effort Sharing Regulation, the European Commission has neglected the introduction of a binding goal for the reduction of greenhouse gases. This is of course counterproductive, for agriculture has to play an important role in climate protection; the reduction of greenhouse gases is just as necessary as the preservation of unsealed soil (which are important CO2 sinks), and food production must also be fundamentally changed.
Somewhat more positive is the European Commission’s proposal to raise the CO2 fleet limits for passenger cars and light utility vehicles and to proclaim the end of the combustion motor by about 2035. But it would have been far better to propose a clear CO2 upper limit that comes into force as soon as possible – and not just starting in 2030. In addition, an earlier date (already by 2030) for the extinction of the combustion motor would have been important. Transportation is the only sector in which emissions have increased in recent years and which urgently needs to be reconstructed to reach a socially just turning point for mobility. Here it should be clear that the construction of small, efficient electric cars has to be prioritised in order to solve the problems of ‘space justice’ in our cities (traffic jams, parking places).
In all this, the interests of employees in Europe’s automobile industry must of course not be forgotten; here we need a just transition (as demanded by IG Metall and IndustriALL) that guarantees good work (good pay, social security, a say for the employees in the firm) and collective agreements, possibilities for further training (for the transition to the production of electric vehicles for local public transport and for rail, as well as training for work in other sectors), as well as the inclusion of trade unions in shaping this transformation.
Unfortunately, the needed upgrading and expansion of rail nets, including cross-border routes, and of local public transport, play no role in Fit for 55 (although 2021 was declared to be the European Year of Rail). This is all the more regrettable that it is here that great masses of greenhouse gases could be economised and thousands of jobs created in the production of infrastructure, rail vehicles, and local public transport vehicles.
For Germany alone this would mean 200,000 jobs in the next ten years in drivers and the maintenance of transportation services and 200,000 more jobs through federal investment in rail infrastructure and public local transport. There are similar proposals for France; ‘Un million d’emplois pour le climat’ presents detailed calculations of how the needed socio-ecological transformation could create thousands of jobs. The rail connections between European cities, which were cancelled in recent years must be reactivated, as should a reliable Europe-wide night-train system. Furthermore, uniform parameters for rail connections have to be established on the European level in order to expand cross-border connections.
The traffic volume must not only be reduced on roads but also in the air. Although it is a welcome development that the European Commission, in the Fit for 55 package, finally saw fit to propose a kerosene tax for inter-European flights, an exception will be made for freight flights. Naturally, this is completely counterproductive. Up to now the EU Member States have been losing about 27 billion euros annually through the lack of a kerosene tax – money that could be used for socio-ecological transformation.
Furthermore, the European Commission proposes sustainable marine fuel and emission-free technologies. This at first sounds positive, but this configuration threatens to bring a veritable boom in problematic biofuels and fossil liquid gas. Biofuels are a problem in that they represent competition with the agricultural use of the soil (‘tank versus dish’) and threaten biological diversity through monocultures. Be that as it may, the initiative of including ocean shipping within emissions trading is positive because this will increase the costs of using fossil fuels.
We need to criticise the proposal to also subject the transportation and heating sectors to emissions trading in the Fit for 55 package. This means that everywhere in the EU in these sectors too CO2 prices will be introduced, which will lead to price increases. On the one hand this is unjust, for energy-intensive industries will continue to receive gratis CO2 certificates and will be thus de facto released from their CO2 prices. Moreover, purchasing power in the different Member States is very uneven, so that a unitary CO2 price will have very different effects on people by locality. It would threaten to create even greater social inequities and financial burdens for citizens.
Although the European Union’s proposal includes a (much too minimally budgeted) Social Climate Fund with which people are to be unburdened, it is up to the Member States to decide how to use this fund, so that it is unclear whether the funds will actually reach citizens who, for example, suffer from energy poverty and/or from increased petrol costs. In Germany, for example, residential tenants are the sole bearers of the increased costs through the CO2 price for heating oil and gas, although the decision on what heating system their building uses rests not with them but with the landlord. This is socially unjust. We see the same picture in the transportation sector: An EU-wide CO2 price will increase petrol costs, which will weigh most heavily on those who depend on cars (especially commuters) and cannot easily switch to electric cars. We thus need to expand the climate-friendly alternatives: comprehensive, reliable local public transportation and rail transportation.
We can say, in conclusion, that Fit for 55’s proposed rules for toughening the CO2 thresholds for passenger cars and light utility vehicles are positive, but as a whole the package is still wanting – precisely in terms of Europe’s climate goal and expansion goals for renewable energies. Here the EU’s two legislative bodies – the European Parliament and the Council of Member States – urgently need to improve the package. The floods two weeks ago in Western Europe alone should make it blindingly clear to everyone how drastically the European Union and its Member States need to increase their efforts to protect the climate.
 See Das Linke Klima-Job-Programm, 26 July 2021, https://www.die-linke.de/start/nachrichten/detail/das-linke-klima-job-programm/ (visited on 27 July 2021).
 See Manuela Kropp and Stephan Schindler, Konferenzbericht, Weichen stellen für den grenzüberschreitenden Schienenverkehr, 18 March 2021 https://www.rosalux.eu/de/article/1901.weichen-stellen-f%C3%BCr-den-grenz%C3%BCberschreitenden-schienenverkehr.html (visited 27 July 2021).
This article was published in an abbreviated version by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung Brussels Office (German).