31st Mar 2023


Why 'Fit for 55' isn't fit for purpose

  • 'Fit for 55' lacks inclusive policies that encompass the most vulnerable economies and people (Photo: Otodo)

Less than two weeks ago, the European Union announced a historic raft of climate change proposals. The 'Fit for 55' plans hope to cut greenhouse gas emissions 55 percent by 2030 and establish Europe as the first carbon-neutral continent by 2050.

The publication of the proposals couldn't be more timely: this month, catastrophic floods ravaged Europe leaving over 200 people dead and hundreds still missing. As the historic storms swept through the region, scientists wrestled with climate change's role in fuelling the ongoing disaster and questioned whether Europe was prepared for the realities of global warming.

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As a wealthy continent – out of the 25 richest countries in the world, 15 are in Europe – the EU carries enormous power to shape the global policy framework to adequately fight climate change.

As a teacher of environmental ethics, I hoped these proposals would leverage this influence and power to truly transform climate politics on an international stage. Now, after reviewing them, I cannot help but feel like more could have been done.

And I do not mean that the goals aren't ambitious enough, or that the branding is questionable - what is missing is inclusivity. Ultimately, the 'Fit for 55' lacks inclusive policies that encompass the most vulnerable economies and people. And I know I'm not alone.

Notably, Australia was amongst the countries criticising the EU for using these climate change proposals to dictate the rules of global trade without addressing the potential implications for other trade-dependent countries.

In fact, Australia's minister for trade, tourism and investment, Dan Tehan, claimed the EU Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) was designed to raise revenue rather than reduce emissions, and that its implementation would breach global trade rules.


The minister dubbed the carbon tax a "new form of protectionism", arguing that it would be better to incentivise countries to reduce emissions, rather than outright penalise them.

The EU seems to be forgetting a crucial factor: the EU isn't the only economic bloc that needs to transition to sustainable systems. If dangerous global warming is to be averted, every country on earth must measure its environmental impact and develop policies which minimise carbon emissions.

As one of the richest countries in the world, Australia's carbon tax complaints may not evoke sympathies, but trade is indispensable for the future stability of developing nations.

My main concern is the EU's climate proposals fail to acknowledge the role of trade in levelling the playing field and allowing less developed countries to lift themselves out of poverty - a crucial step to fund the systemic change needed to fight climate change.

Covid-19 has already disrupted global trade, posing additional challenges for vulnerable economies.

However, even prior to the pandemic, leading economists long argued that Western countries were attempting to 'kick away the ladder' from developing nations trying to join the economic elite.

In one of the worst-case scenarios, the EU's climate policies would exclude developing nations from international trade, forcing them to trade with each other, forming economic and environmental 'ghettos' whereby the wealthy Western world enjoys the benefits of free trade and clean energy, and developing countries lose their economic sovereignty while navigating increasing carbon emissions.

At a bare minimum, if less developed countries face severe trade barriers entering the EU market, they would have no choice but to look elsewhere. And all too often 'elsewhere' means countries with less strict environmental regulations.

For example, in 2019 the EU implemented a de facto ban on palm oil for biodiesel citing environmental concerns. Since then, trade between major palm oil producers and China, the second-largest importer and third-largest consumer of palm oil in the world, has increased alongside valid concerns about the lack of transparency and ethics in the Chinese market.

The result? Not less palm oil, but more unchecked and unaccountable carbon emissions.

Ironically, the EU palm oil ban also overlooks efforts to tackle deforestation and make palm oil sustainable.

An example of this is Malaysia's national certification scheme, Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO), a legally binding scheme which includes robust regulations protecting the environment and wildlife. Currently around 90 percent of Malaysian palm oil is MSPO certified, and in turn deforestation rates have steadily fallen since 2017, a fact which remains unacknowledged by the EU.

By excluding developing countries from the climate debate, the EU is hindering efforts to combat the most severe crisis our civilisation is facing. If passed, the EU's climate plan will impact global transport, manufacturing, trade, and consumers, leading to further entrenched global inequalities that will worsen the effects of global warming.

If the EU wants to solve climate change, it must not forget it needs the entire world to be on the same page.

Author bio

Dr Ibrahim Özdemir is an ecologist and a consultant to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). He teaches environmental ethics and philosophy at Üsküdar University, Istanbul, Turkey. In addition, he was a lead member of the drafting team for the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change endorsed by the UN United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.


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