Guiding Europe Towards Faster and Deeper Decarbonisation: An Enhanced Role for Policy Monitoring?

Jonas Schoenefeld, Andy Jordan |

Greenhouse gas monitoring – and increasingly climate policy monitoring, meaning the continuous tracking of policies with indicators – has existed since the early 1990s – and is thus a long-standing practice. For a long time, most people thought it to be a very technical exercise of low politics, but our new work demonstrates that this is no longer the case.

The EU’s 2050 ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions target means that substantial emissions reductions will have to happen in every policy sector, be it energy, agriculture or transport. We argue in a new open access paper in the Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning that the EU must continue to enhance its capacity for policy monitoring to be able to verify continuous progress in each sector.

Especially in the wake of the 2015 Paris Agreement, policy monitoring and review has become the core way in which the international community seeks to reach climate targets. Building on this approach, there are now new efforts to supplement the reporting on individual climate policies through the EU’s Monitoring Mechanism with ‘harder’ elements.

‘Harder’ elements may be understood as efforts to enhance the policy steering capacity of ‘softer’ policy monitoring. In our paper, we demonstrate that recent legislative revisions of the monitoring mechanism have introduced several of these ‘harder’ elements. These include making the monitoring more specific (by, for example requiring the EU Member States to report on their low-carbon development strategies and on climate adaptation), enhancing the publicity of monitoring data and thus its visibility, and linking the monitoring more closely with effort sharing mechanisms and the emerging Energy Union. See Table 1.

These harder elements emerged from an entrepreneurial Commission, the European Parliament, and the European Environment Agency, all of which preferred enhanced climate policy monitoring. Member State support for these efforts proved more ambivalent, leading to some compromises in for example not making all aspects of climate policy monitoring legally binding.

The underlying idea is that transparency, coupled with pressure from national peers and potentially the public (the hardening elements), will push the Member States onto a policy path that is consistent with net zero emissions by 2050. Furthermore, focusing on policy monitoring rather than on prescribing particular policies may also allow for greater flexibility in experimenting with different solutions, and help identify the most effective approaches.

It appears that the European Green Deal, as well as the proposed European Climate Law also build on the presence of monitoring provisions. However, the ultimate effects of seeking to enhance policy effectiveness with monitoring remain uncertain, because in spite of some analysis of policy monitoring efforts – to which our work contributes – researchers are only just beginning to assess the capacity of policy monitoring in delivering policy outcomes that contribute to a stable climate.


Schoenefeld, J.J. & Jordan, A. (2020). Towards Harder Soft Governance? Monitoring Climate Policy in the EU. Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning. DOI: [OPEN ACCESS]

Schoenefeld, J. J., Schulze, K., Hildén, M., & Jordan, A. J. (2019). Policy Monitoring in the EU: The Impact of Institutions, Implementation, and Quality. Politische Vierteljahresschrift, 60(4), 719-741. DOI: [OPEN ACCESS]