Germany, France, and Italy have all committed to achieving “net zero emissions” by the middle of this century, aiming to mitigate the increasing severity of climate events. However, these major European economies, which are also the leading contributors to pollution, face significant challenges in meeting their objectives.
As Europe’s primary source of greenhouse gas emissions, Germany has set its sights on “net zero emissions” by 2045. Every major political party, except for the far-right, has pledged to prevent global temperatures from rising above 1.5C.
The governing coalition, composed of the Social Democrats, Greens, and liberals, has been on the brink of collapse due to disagreements over environmental policies. While the liberals and the opposition Christian Democrats view plans to eliminate combustion engine cars and new gas boilers as a threat to “freedom,” legislation facilitating the construction of wind turbines and solar panels has passed with minimal opposition.
Two years ago, Germany bolstered its climate legislation after the highest court declared the previous version “partly unconstitutional.” However, sectors like transport and construction have consistently missed their annual targets. The government’s scientific advisory body criticised the transport minister’s last “immediate action plan” as insufficient for evaluation. Consequently, the cabinet has opted to abandon sector-specific targets.
France is targeting “net zero emissions” by 2050. Although its pace is slower than Germany’s, it is nearer to achieving its goal. In 2021, France emitted only half the greenhouse gases that Germany did, largely due to its extensive network of nuclear power plants producing low-carbon electricity.
By 2035, France plans for nuclear power to supply 50% of its energy and aims for renewables to account for 40% of its electricity by 2030. However, the country has struggled to reduce emissions from agriculture—the highest in Europe—and transport. The “yellow vest” protests in 2018 compelled President Emmanuel Macron to abandon a proposed fuel tax increase.
In a recent ruling, the Conseil d’État, France’s highest court, found “no credible guarantee that the trajectory of reducing greenhouse gas emissions shall be effectively respected.”
Italy, Europe’s third-largest polluter, has a “net zero” target for 2050. According to a draft national energy and climate strategy, Italy aims to generate 65% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and meet 40% of its energy needs through renewables.
Despite its heavy reliance on imported fossil gas for heating and electricity, Italy’s clean energy sector has been sluggish over the past decade. However, recent reforms are expected to accelerate the rate of clean energy installations. The government is also offering a “superbonus” tax incentive for home insulation.
Amid deadly heat waves last July, Italy’s environment minister expressed uncertainty over “how much [climate change] is due to man or Earth,” despite the IPCC’s conclusive evidence that human activity is solely responsible for global warming.