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London — The EU's Green Deal is an opportunity to drive Europe's strategy for long-term clean economic growth at the same time as powering a recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, the European Commission's executive vice-president Frans Timmermans said Oct. 26.

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Achieving both goals simultaneously lies at the heart of Europe's strategy on energy and climate as the bloc attempts to boost employment now and achieve growth in clean industries over the long term.

"We're in the middle, not just of a pandemic, not just of a climate crisis, not just of a biodiversity crisis, but we are also in the middle of an industrial revolution," Timmermans said in a webinar hosted by the International Energy Agency.

"And we have seen in human history that every industrial revolution is driven by and accompanied by a massive energy shift -- a massive shift in what energy drives it," he said.

Timmermans said changes were happening at speed in the energy market, noting a widely held expectation only a few years ago that a 'golden age of gas' was coming.

"And ten years before, it was coal that was exploding as an energy source," Timmermans said.

"And now we know -- and it comes out clearly from your [IEA] report -- that solar energy is likely to be the king of power generation for decades to come," he said.

Twin goals

In the wake of the pandemic, some in European policymaking circles had initial doubts over whether the bloc should push the Green Deal as a priority, and focus instead on a virus recovery program. But those doubts were short-lived, Timmermans said.

"In the private sector, in the energy sector and in politics, everybody soon came to the realization that if we want to come out of this pandemic stronger, and if we want to avoid pouring billions and billions of euros into what are going to be stranded assets, we need to use the Green Deal as our growth strategy and our recovery strategy as well," he said.

Three sectors of the economy stand out as particularly difficult to decarbonize: transport, housing and agriculture, Timmermans said.

For housing, Europe's so-called Renovation Wave will reduce emissions through energy efficiency improvements for buildings, also creating short-term jobs, he said.

For transport, Europe needs to stimulate electric mobility for lighter vehicles, while hydrogen fuel cells can offer a solution for heavier vehicles, including shipping and aviation, he said.

Carbon border measures

Timmermans also said Europe will go ahead with carbon border adjustment measures on a sector-by-sector basis, to apply to goods imported from countries that choose not to put a price on CO2 emissions or take equivalent action.

"If that is the case, because of others not taking the measures they need to take, then we will protect our industry by introducing a carbon border adjustment mechanism. And we are working on that, looking sector by sector," he said.

"We are in the middle of this analysis, and some time early next year we will probably be able to show some results there and we will have to take decisions," he said.

If other nations take measures that "go in the same direction" on carbon pricing, then the need for a carbon border adjustment mechanism will be more limited, Timmermans said, noting with interest the upcoming US election in November, with US President Donald Trump not currently supporting America's participation in the Paris Agreement.

Europe is also actively engaging with US states, cities and corporations who wish to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Timmermans said.

The EU is also having "extremely constructive" talks with China's senior leadership on the issue of climate protection, he said. The EU welcomes China's recent announcement to target carbon neutrality by 2060, and is watching to see how this translates into concrete actions in China's five-year planning process, he said.

In addition, hydrogen will play a "hugely crucial role" in Europe's energy mix of the future, Timmermans added.

"But we need to build up the electrolyzing of hydrogen very quickly. Of course, we want green hydrogen, but in the intermediate period, blue hydrogen [derived from natural gas] will also play a certain role, and for this we need CCS [carbon capture and storage]," he said.

Elements of the EU's climate policy, such as the bloc's 2030 carbon emissions reduction target, are currently under discussion between the EU Parliament and Council.

Then in early 2021, the European Commission is expected to make a legislative proposal on a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, followed by further legislative proposals in June 2021 covering revisions of the EU Emissions Trading System, Effort Sharing Regulation, Land use and forestry Regulation, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Directives, and a revision of CO2 emissions performance standards for cars and vans.