Policy brief

A green fiscal pact: climate investment in times of budget consolidation

A fiscal exit strategy must be put in place when the EU is pursuing the major goal of cutting its emissions

Publishing date
09 September 2021
Visual of trees and smoke

The additional public investment need required to meet the European Union’s climate goals is between 0.5 percent and 1 percent of GDP annually during this decade. Increasing green public investment while consolidating deficits will be a major challenge. While our simulations show that budget consolidation can be done at a moderate pace in line with EU rules if those rules are interpreted flexibly, past consolidation episodes resulted in major public investment cuts. This time, there is a need for a major increase in investment.

A ‘green golden rule’ (excluding net green investment from the fiscal indicators used to measure fiscal rule compliance) is the most promising option to address this tension.

Relaxing the strictness of the EU fiscal framework beyond its existing flexibility and the proposed green golden rule does not appear necessary in the next few years. The uncertain growth impact of green public spending and the risks to growth from climate change create difficult trade offs in fiscally weaker countries. In any case, better regulatory policy and a higher price on emissions should incentivise private green investment and reduce public costs. These ingredients should be combined to form a ‘green fiscal pact’.

This paper was prepared for the informal ECOFIN meeting in Ljubljana on 10/11 September 2021. The authors thank Klaas Lenaerts for his excellent research assistance and colleagues at Bruegel (Grégory Claeys, Maria Demertzis, André Sapir, Jean Pisani-Ferry and Simone Tagliapietra) for their feedback and suggestions.

About the authors

  • Zsolt Darvas

    Zsolt Darvas, a Hungarian citizen, joined Bruegel as a Visiting Fellow in September 2008 and continued his work at Bruegel as a Research Fellow from January 2009, before being appointed Senior Fellow from September 2013. He is also a Senior Research Fellow at the Corvinus University of Budapest.

    From 2005 to 2008, he was the Research Advisor of the Argenta Financial Research Group in Budapest. Before that, he worked at the research unit of the Central Bank of Hungary (1994-2005) where he served as Deputy Head.

    Zsolt holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Corvinus University of Budapest where he teaches courses in Econometrics but also at other institutions since 1994. His research interests include macroeconomics, international economics, central banking and time series analysis.

  • Guntram B. Wolff

    Guntram Wolff was the Director of Bruegel. Over his career, he has contributed to research on European political economy and governance, fiscal, monetary and financial policy, climate change and geoeconomics. Under his leadership, Bruegel has been regularly ranked among the top global think tanks and has grown in influence and impact with a team of now almost 40 recognized scholars and around 65 total staff. Bruegel is also recognized for its outstanding transparency.

    A recognized thought leader and academic, he regularly testifies at the European Finance Ministers' ECOFIN meeting, the European Parliament, the German Parliament (Bundestag) and the French Parliament (Assemblée Nationale). From 2012-16, he was a member of the French prime minister's Conseil d'Analyse Economique. In 2018, then IMF managing director Christine Lagarde appointed him to the external advisory group on surveillance to review the Fund’s priorities. In 2021, he was appointed to the G20 high level independent panel on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response. He is also a professor (part-time) at the Solvay Brussels School of Université Libre de Bruxelles, where he teaches economics of European integration.

    He joined Bruegel from the European Commission, where he worked on the macroeconomics of the euro area and the reform of euro area governance. Prior to joining the Commission, he was coordinating the research team on fiscal policy at Deutsche Bundesbank. He also worked as an external adviser to the International Monetary Fund.

    He holds a PhD in economics from the University of Bonn and studied in Bonn, Toulouse, Pittsburgh and Passau. He taught economics at the University of Pittsburgh and at Université libre de Bruxelles. He has published numerous papers in leading academic journals. His columns and policy work are published and cited in leading international media and policy outlets. Guntram is fluent in German, English, French and has good notions of Bulgarian and Spanish.

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