In a Nutshell

The Just Transition Mechanism is the European Union’s main tool to ensure that the transition to a climate-neutral economy happens in a fair and just way. Through its three pillars, it aims to mobilise an estimated EUR 55 billion over 2021-2027 to support the European regions, sectors and workers most affected by the transition.

The EU regions identified as most at risk or overburdened by the transition, and thus most in need of justice-oriented policies, are those whose economies rely heavily on fossil fuel extraction and production, particularly coal. Poland, Germany, Romania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Spain face the greatest potential job losses in this sector.

The policy establishes three financial mechanisms to work towards a Europe-wide just transition: the Just Transition Fund (JTF), a dedicated transition scheme under InvestEU, and a loan facility provided by the European Investment Bank. Respectively, they offer grants, mobilise private investments and leverage public finance. Whereas the eligibility criteria for the JTF promote the diversification and modernisation of economies and the reskilling of workers, the other mechanisms are broader in scope and include a wide range of sectors.

As a nascent sector set to grow in scale and importance in the coming decades, carbon dioxide removal falls under the scope of the Just Transition Mechanism. To function, the EU CDR industry will need a large workforce, making it a natural candidate for reskilling programmes across multiple sectors, including academic research, engineering and technical jobs.

What's on the Horizon?

The eighth edition of the Just Transition Platform Conference will take place between 23 and 25 October in Brussels.

By June 2025, the Commission will need to review the implementation of the Joint Transition Fund.

Each member state has a national share reserved under the Public Sector Loan Facility until 31 December 2025. There are regular deadlines to apply for grants under the facility, with the next one on 17 January 2024.

The territorial Just Transition plans cover the period up to 2030.

Deep Dive

The Just Transition Fund

The JTF is the first pillar of the Just Transition Mechanism. The fund primarily supports the economic diversification and reconversion of the most affected regions through grants. EUR 17.5 billion was attributed to the fund through a regulation, with EUR 7.5 billion coming from the Multiannual Financial Framework for the period 2021-2027 (MFF) and EUR 10 billion from the NextGenerationEU for the period 2021-2023.

To access allocated funds, member states must prepare territorial just transition plans covering territories “most negatively affected based on the economic and social impacts resulting from the transition”. Special consideration should be given to islands and outermost regions.

The InvestEU “Just Transition” scheme

The second pillar of the JTM provides budgetary guarantees to ‘implementing partners’ that the EU Commission will provide direct or indirect financing. It can support investments detailed in national territorial just transition plans spanning a wide range of projects, including energy and transport infrastructure decarbonisation, economic diversification and social infrastructure. This scheme is expected to mobilise EUR 10-15 billion, coming mostly from the private sector, with some support from InvestEU implementing partners such as the European Investment Bank.

The public sector loan facility with the European Investment Bank

The third pillar of the JTM and its accompanying regulation provides a mix of EUR 1.5 billion in grants from the EU budget and approximately EUR 10 billion of loans from the European Investment Bank. A further EUR 18-25 billion of public investments is expected to be mobilised. The loan facility mainly targets energy and transport infrastructure, district heating networks, energy efficiency measures and social infrastructure. Applications must be linked to the relevant territorial just transition plan to demonstrate how the project supports specific national ‘green transitions’. Each member state is reserved a part of the budget under the facility until 2025, after which any unused amount will be made available to projects across the entire EU.

While the two other pillars of the JTM provide rather broad requirements, the Just Transition Fund outlines a specific list of actions and sectors that can be supported. CDR in its broadest sense could directly or indirectly fall under multiple categories. For example, it could help funnel productive investments in SMEs and investments in the creation of new firms. On the research side, CDR can be a destination for investments in research and innovation activities. On the social side, it could accompany the upskilling and reskilling of workers and job seekers. Finally, on the infrastructure side, it could be applied to upgrade district heating networks, especially combined heat and power plants, to unlock investments in the deployment of climate technology and systems, and for investments in renewable energy.

Evaluating the Just Transition Mechanism

Being the EU’s flagship mechanism to ensure no one is left behind in the green transition, the JTM’s main lever consists of requiring the development of territorial just transition plans. These are intended to ensure a high level of ambition whilst allowing civil society and the affected publics to have visibility over the just transition plan. There is also a certain degree of technical assistance provided for local public authorities, mostly through the Just Transition Platform, a one-stop shop platform providing information on all aspects of the JTM.

However, the JTM has several potential drawbacks. Firstly, the JTM might inadvertently reward countries that have delayed climate action by providing funds to member states with carbon-intensive industries that would not have decarbonisation plans otherwise. Secondly, the initial budget of the JTF was set at about EUR 44 billion, whereas it has now been downsized to EUR 17.5 billion, which will inevitably mean that fewer projects will be supported. Thirdly, the vision of fairness set out in the JTM and the European Green Deal in general has been criticised as a short-term, dirigiste solution to systemic challenges. Only specific sectors and regions are included, whereas other meaningful activities involving other types of actors and regions are left out of the JTM. Finally, the JTM’s operationalisation of climate justice is focused on those who are adversely affected by the transition, rather than on those who are adversely affected by climate change at large.

Timeline

11 December 2019
14 January 2020
28 May 2020
29 June - 3 July 2020
9 March 2021
July 2021
August 2021
11 December 2019

European Green Deal communication and announcement of the Just Transition Mechanism

14 January 2020

Commission adopts the Just Transition Fund Proposal

28 May 2020

Commission adopts the Public Sector Loan Facility Proposal

29 June - 3 July 2020

Launch of the Just Transition Platform

9 March 2021

Adoption of the InvestEU Guidelines, including guidelines for the Just Transition Special Scheme

July 2021

Entry into force of the Just Transition Fund Regulation

August 2021

Entry into force of the Public Sector Loan Facility Regulation

Unofficial Title

Just Transition Mechanism

Year

2021

In a Nutshell

As part of the European Green Deal, the EU has set out legally binding climate objectives to (1) cut domestic net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 55% compared to 1990 levels by 2030 and to (2) reach climate neutrality by 2050. The European Climate Law provides the legal framework to support these objectives. The law also requires the European Commission to propose a 2040 climate target for the EU in the first half of 2024, accompanied by an indicative EU GHG budget for the period 2030-2050.

The Commission is at the early stages of this process and has opened a public consultation to guide its assessment of a suitable 2040 climate target, inform the analysis of the sectoral transformations needed to meet this target, and provide input on the possible evolution of climate policy instruments beyond 2030. It will also lay out preferences between establishing separate or joint targets for emissions reductions and carbon removal – the two central components of net zero.

Carbon Gap advocates for the EU to set an explicit 2040 net emission reduction target of 95% compared to 1990, in line with advice by the European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change. This target will be the key milestone that the Union commits to reaching on the path to climate neutrality by or before 2050.

Timeline

23 June 2023
6 February 2024
23 June 2023

Deadline to submit feedback to the call for evidence for an impact assessment, which will inform the new Communication on the EU climate target for 2040

6 February 2024

Commission adoption of the Communication, which lays the foundation for a draft law setting the 2040 target

In a Nutshell

The Directive for the Substantiation of Explicit Environmental Claims (Green Claims Directive) is a legislative proposal that aims to address and reduce greenwashing in consumer-facing commercial practices. It establishes minimum requirements on the substantiation and communication of voluntary environmental claims and labels that are not otherwise banned under the Directive on Empowering Consumers for the Green Transition.

To make green claims (including climate-related claims) about the environmental footprint of their products, services, and operations, companies will need to comprehensively demonstrate environmental impact and performance by submitting recognised scientific evidence and the latest technical knowledge. The Directive establishes specific requirements for distinguishing claims on environmental performance from common practice, legal obligations, and from other traders or products.

Environmental claims and labelling schemes will be verified by independent accredited bodies before being put on the market. Member states will nominate a competent national authority to supervise this process, monitor and verify the claims and substantiations on a regular basis. This monitoring will help the Commission evaluate where more specific requirements are needed and implement delegated acts accordingly.

Climate-related claims such as net zero or carbon neutrality claims based on carbon credits use, including carbon removal, fall under the remit of this Directive. To substantiate such claims companies must report offsetting and emissions data separately, specify whether offsetting relates to emissions reductions or carbon removals, and explain accurately the accounting methodology applied. Once approved and when communicating to consumers, climate-related claims must be accompanied by additional information detailing the extent of reliance on offsetting and whether it is based on emissions reductions or removals.

What's on the Horizon?

The Green Claims proposal by the European Commission is currently being discussed within the European Parliament and the Council, with the aim to come to an agreement on their positions as part of the ordinary legislative procedure, before entering interinstitutional negotiations.

2023-2024: The European Parliament and the Council will develop their positions separately.

Directive on Empowering Consumers for the Green Transition (ECGT):
  • The Council adopted its negotiating mandate regarding the ECGT Directive on 3 May. The mandate outlines the Council’s position on this directive which would lay the foundation for the Green Claims Directive.
  • The European Parliament on adopted its position on 11 May 2023, setting stricter conditions than the Commission proposal.
  • On 19 September 2023, the Council and the Parliament reached a provisional agreement on the ECGT Directive, banning carbon neutrality claims for products and services based on carbon offsetting, and setting stricter requirements for organisations to make claims based on future environmental performance. Complementing the Directive on Empowering Consumers, the Green Claims Directive will provide further guidance on the conditions to make substantiated environmental claims.
  • On 17 January 2024, the European Parliament adopted the provisional agreement on the ECGT Directive. After the Council adopts the final text, the directive will be published in the Official Journal of the EU, and member states will have 24 months to transpose it into national law.

Green Claims Directive (GCD):

  • The ENVI and IMCO Committee (joint committees responsible) adopted their report on 14 February 2024, with a view for the Parliament to adopt the report during the March 2024 plenary.
  • The Council aims to adopt this file’s general approach on 17 June 2024.
  • 2024- 2025: Following trilogues between EU institutions, the Directive is expected to be formally adopted and transposed by member states.

Deep Dive

Policy Landscape

The Green Claims Directive complements the Empowering Consumers Directive published by the European Commission on 30 March 2022 within the EU. Together, they aim to improve the circularity of the EU’s economy and achieve climate neutrality. They set requirements to substantiate environmental claims made to consumers and other commercial practices.

Apart from the French ministerial decree n°2022-538, the Green Claims Directive is a first of its kind in the specificity with which it regulates environmental claims and addresses climate-neutrality claims. The French decree regulates advertising claims based on emission compensation projects. It has different requirements surrounding emissions reporting, compensation data, and net zero plans.

Aim

The Green Claims Directive proposal addresses the issue of greenwashing, increasingly prevalent in recent years. It seeks to standardise environmental claims and labels to improve transparency and credibility for consumers. The proposal aims to use delegated and implementing acts in the future to address substantiation methodologies for specific product groups and evolving commercial practices.

The preamble of the proposal states that climate-related claims are prone to being unclear and misleading, as they are often based on offsetting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through carbon credits of low environmental integrity and credibility, generated outside the company’s value chain and calculated based on methodologies that vary widely in transparency, accuracy, and consistency. Offsetting can also deter traders from reducing emissions in their own operations and value chains.

However, credible net zero claims have the potential to incentivise and drive the development of safe, just and sustainable carbon removals to transition towards real climate neutrality. Claims based on offsetting must be regulated through a robust and science-based system to prevent greenwashing.

Room for improvement

Unfortunately, the Green Claims Directive as it currently stands does not establish the necessary measures to do so:

  • The Directive does not align with scientific consensus as it allows offsetting through emissions reductions and avoidance to substantiate carbon neutrality claims. The IPCC’s definition of net zero is clear: balancing emissions with physical removals. Accordingly, offsetting projects that avoid emissions, but do not physically remove and store carbon, must be barred from use in substantiating claims about net climate impacts.
  • The proposal rightly requires companies to report GHG emissions separately from offsetting data, to disclose the share of their total emissions that are addressed through offsetting and whether these come from emission reductions or removals. This isn’t enough to monitor whether the claimed climate impacts are real. There is a need for more extensive disclosure on the types of carbon credits companies are purchasing (avoidance, reduction, removals), which emissions they are claiming compensation for, and the methodologies used to ensure integrity and correct accounting.
  • The proposal allows all types of offsetting without any clear criteria for which emissions they can compensate for, nor which climate claims they can substantiate. However, not all carbon storage is equal in terms of capacity, duration or reversal risk. This means that long-lived fossil fuel emissions otherwise impossible to abate can only be balanced by removals with high-durability storage in the geosphere where the carbon came from. Lower-durability removal and storage of carbon into the biosphere must be accelerated for its own sake, to halt and reverse the loss of ecosystems and natural carbon stocks but cannot be eligible to compensate for fossil fuel emissions. Failing to enshrine this non-fungibility principle in EU law would allow companies to continue offsetting their long-lived emissions through shorter-term carbon storage with higher risks of reversal.
  • Although the Directive encourages companies to use offsetting only for residual emissions, it provides no robust definition for what constitutes these residual or ‘hard-to-abate’ emissions. Without a sector-specific and measurable definition, companies can weaken emissions cutting efforts by manipulating the boundary between emissions that must be reduced’ and ‘emissions that physical removals can offset’. The EU will need to establish a transparent process for classifying emissions as difficult-to-decarbonise.
  • The proposal excludes from its scope environmental claims and labels substantiated by rules in the Carbon Removal Certification Framework (CRCF). However, the proposal for the CRCF has no rules for claim substantiation. Instead, the Green Claims Directive could establish guardrails for legitimate net zero claims, which could be substantiated through the purchase of high-quality carbon removal credits certified under the CRCF.

Timeline

11 March 2020
20 July 2020
25 November 2020
30 March 2022
22 March 2023
11 May 2023
6 June 2023
19 September 2023
17 January 2024
14 February 2024
11 March 2024 (TBC)
17 June 2024 (TBC)
11 March 2020

The EU Circular Economy Action Plan sets out the plan to support the EU’s transition to a circular economy, including by protecting consumers

20 July 2020

Impact assessment and public consultation on substantiating green claims

25 November 2020
30 March 2022
22 March 2023

European Commission publishes the proposal for Green Claims Directive (GCD)

11 May 2023

European Parliament adopts its position on the ECGT Directive

6 June 2023

Deadline to provide feedback to the Commission on the GCD legislative proposal

19 September 2023

The Council and the Parliament reached a provisional agreement on the ECGT Directive

17 January 2024

The EU Parliament adopted the ECGT Directive

14 February 2024

Joint report of the lead ENVI and IMCO Committees on the GCD adopted

11 March 2024 (TBC)

European Parliament plenary vote on the GCD joint report

17 June 2024 (TBC)

Council to adopt its general approach on GCD

Unofficial Title

Green Claims

Year

2023

Official Document

Last Updated

24/04/2023

In a Nutshell

Nature Restoration Targets is a legislative proposal from the European Commission that would set legally binding targets for nature restoration in Europe. The aim is to mitigate biodiversity loss, ecosystem degradation and climate change, and to boost human and animal health by complementing the EU’s existing framework for protecting ecosystems. If adopted, the regulation would be the first continent-wide, comprehensive law of its kind.

By 2030, the targets would ensure restoration of at least 20% of degraded EU land and sea areas, and the remaining ones by 2050. The proposed legislation covers a broad range of ecosystems with specific targets, from forests and agricultural land to urban areas, rivers and marine habitats, with emphasis on restoring those with the highest potential for carbon removal and storage, and for prevention and reduction of natural disasters. Member States would be required to develop Nature Restoration Plans, to be assessed by the Commission, and to report on their progress toward meeting domestic targets.

Many aspects of the law would promote carbon removal. The draft law prioritises the restoration of damaged terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems that have significant potential for carbon removal. This includes ecosystems such as peatlands, forests, grasslands, marshlands, heathland and scrub and coastal wetlands. Focusing on damaged and carbon-rich ecosystems is thought to be cost-efficient (as well as critical for climate change mitigation) because the monetised benefits from carbon storage could outweigh the cost of restoring ecosystems by a factor of six. It is still unclear how the Commission expects to monetise carbon removals through nature restoration, but it has proposed that Member States fund their restoration efforts through the EU, national and private sources.

Under the proposed regulation, agricultural ecosystems across member states must achieve a trend of increasing organic carbon stocks in cropland and mineral soils. This trend must be evident at the national level, be measured at least every three years and is mandated to increase until satisfactory levels have been attained. Moreover, many ‘high-diversity landscape’ agricultural practices overlap with good soil management protocols for reducing soil loss, such as terracing and buffer strips. Reducing topsoil erosion is fundamental to soil carbon sequestration.

What's on the Horizon?

The draft Law faced political opposition from the EPP and the Conservatives and was almost withdrawn.

On 27 June, the ENVI Committee rejected the Commission’s proposal on the Nature Restoration Law. On 12 July, the Parliament rejected the EPP’s call to reject the law. It voted in favour of a common approach to the file, which had to be watered down to gather support.

Interinstitutional negotiations started in July 2023. The Spanish Presidency has signalled that the Nature Restoration Law will be one of its priorities. A provisional agreement was reached between the European Parliament and the Council. Both parties now need to formally adopt the agreement before the law is published in the Official Journal of the EU. On 29 November 2023, the Parliament’s ENVI Committee voted in favour of the provisional agreement, and on 27 February 2024, the EU Parliament Plenary adopted the agreement.

The Council should adopt the provisional agreement shortly. After that, the Nature Restoration Law will be published in the Official Journal of the EU and enter into force.

The next important process will be the drafting of Nature Restoration Plans by member states, which will be essential to implement this EU regulation.

Deep Dive

Giving teeth to EU environmental rules

The proposed Nature Restoration Law sits at the intersection between European climate and biodiversity policies, demonstrating the interconnected nature of these crises. If passed, the Law would contribute toward the EU’s delivery of its 2050 climate neutrality target, especially if the range of ecosystems in scope remains as broad and numerous as proposed. Many ecosystems constitute natural carbon sinks; restoring them can help draw down more carbon from the atmosphere and the Law’s legally binding targets will prioritise the restoration of those that have the highest potential to capture and store carbon. According to the Commission, restoring degraded ecosystems such as forests through management and afforestation has the capability to remove approximately 500 Mt CO2e annually by 2050.

In general, this law would add rigor to the EU’s existing environmental law regime. To date, the efficacy of these schemes has suffered from lack of targets, deadlines and procedural clarity. The EU has, so far, failed to meet its voluntary goals (for example, the Convention on Biological Diversity’s voluntary target to restore at least 15% of its degraded ecosystems by 2020 was missed).

Another advantage of the law would be new data sources that will be gathered as part of the national Restoration Plans and reports, such as mapping any agricultural and forest areas that need restoration that would highlight areas of carbon depletion, which may help fill data gaps on terrestrial carbon flows.

Additionality and the CRCF

It is still unclear how the Nature Restoration Law would intersect with the EU Carbon Removal Certification Framework (CRCF). The Commission has proposed that carbon farming through restoration of peatlands and other ecosystems be eligible for certification under CRCF. However, the introduction of the Nature Restoration Law will have implications for the additionality rules in the CRCF, which state that carbon removal activities must exceed standard practices and legal requirements to be certified. By changing legalities and norms governing nature restoration, and by extension terrestrial and aquatic carbon-enhancing practices, the Nature Restoration Law might limit which carbon farming projects can be certified under the CRCF.

Status of the stakeholder debate

There is a strong case for increased ambition for the Nature Restoration Law. Parliament’s rapporteur, MEP César Luena, is advocating for raising the proposed target of restoring 20% of the EU’s land and seas by 2030 to 30% in line with the global decision adopted in December at the COP15 UN Biodiversity Conference in Montreal. Additionally, under the current proposal, the majority of the restoration action is postponed until after 2030; it takes time for the carbon benefits of nature restoration measures to materialise. Hence, policy-makers should bring the timeline forward to ensure these measures contribute to the EU’s net zero and biodiversity goals.

Questions remain as to how much flexibility member states will have in their implementation of the law. Some are particularly concerned about the impact of this regulation on farmers and foresters and, by extension, European food security and sovereignty (although the perceived trade-off between ecological restoration and EU food security has been challenged). For example, farmers and foresters may be obligated to transition to more sustainable practices, which may result in additional costs. Several voices in the Parliament’s Agriculture Committee argue that the proposed law should better integrate the interests of farmers by excluding agriculture from the scope, or ensuring nature restoration is economically attractive to farmers with new non-CAP financing.

There are similar concerns as to whether the new regulation adequately accounts for the socioeconomic role of forests. The proposed law aims to legally protect all remaining primary and old-growth forests. This stipulation is a particularly contentious issue for Nordic and Baltic countries with large forestry sectors. The European Landowners’ Organisation (ELO) decries the lack of new financing or market-based incentives for forest owners to preserve their land under the new law.

Overall, policy-makers should assess the existing EU funding available for nature restoration and what further financial support is needed while also establishing dialogue and coordination with landowners and farmers. For example, the ENVI Committee’s report could require the Commission to reflect on the creation of a dedicated nature restoration fund. Policy-makers should also not overlook the  potential for new green jobs to be created as a result of the regulation.

Timeline

20 May 2020
22 June 2022
20 June 2023
27 June 2023
12 July 2023
19 July 2023
5 October 2023
9 November 2023
29 November 2023
27 February 2024
20 May 2020

European Commission Biodiversity strategy for 2030 setting out the long-term plan to protect nature and reverse the degradation of ecosystems

22 June 2022

European Commission adopts the proposal for a Nature Restoration Law

20 June 2023

The EU Council agreed on a general approach on the proposal for a Nature Restoration Law.

27 June 2023

The ENVI committee (the lead EU Parliament committee for this file) rejected the Commission’s proposal for the EU nature restoration law as amended by the ENVI Rapporteur of the file (44 pro, 44 against)

12 July 2023

The EU Parliament adopted a common approach to the Law and rejected the EPP’s call to reject the Law.

19 July 2023

First trilogue negotation

5 October 2023

Second trilogue negotiation

9 November 2023

Provisional agreement between the EU Parliament and the Council reached after the third trilogue negotiation

29 November 2023

The EU Parliament ENVI Committee voted in favor of the provisional agreement

27 February 2024

EU Parliament plenary adopted the provisional agreement

Status

Year

2022

Official Document

Last Updated

24/04/2023