Editor’s Blog: Produced in collaboration with the EU Buzz team
As Europe continues to face its Covid-19 challenges it is reassuring to witness that it has not stopped its commitment to the ambitious policies which constitute the flagship European Green Deal. Europe’s leaders intend to stay on a path towards becoming a cleaner, more sustainable, healthier and resilient Union by 2050.
Putting Brexit to one side, coronavirus has created enormous social and economic challenges, adding substantial costs to an already strained EU budget. Over 2.6 million citizens have died from the virus with more than 20 million registered infections, with most member states still struggling to vaccinate the most vulnerable in their communities. Additionally, the virus has heavily impacted on business and industry, leaving some regional economies decimated. The travel industry, tourism sector, cultural activities, events, bars, restaurants and hospitality have all faced the brunt of lockdowns and social distancing restrictions which has meant they have been forced to keep their doors closed. No customers and no incomes, whilst expenditures for rents and staffing have remained, has meant that the situation has become untenable especially for those in the small to medium sized business sector. Whilst governments and the EU have discussed, and in some cases implemented, recovery plans, many businesses will be unable to survive even as lockdowns lift. Furthermore, in the minds of European citizens, is the ultimate concern that the cost of the pandemic will be imposed on future generations.
Europe’s new Commission of 2019-2024 announced in December 2019, before Covid hit the continent, that Europe would invest in a European Green Deal. The initiative was launched in response to the climate change and biodiversity crisis with the goal of achieving a carbon-neutral and sustainable European economy by 2050.
This comprehensive and overarching policy package includes the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, the Farm to Fork Strategy, the Circular Economy Action Plan, the Industrial Emissions Strategy, the Climate Law, and the Climate Pact. The EU Climate Adaptation Strategy, the Chemicals Strategy, the Zero Pollution Action and the ‘Fit for 55 package’. The Green Deal package is highly ambitious and consists of assessments, the analysis of data, and information platforms which will be implemented across all the EU 27 member states. Whilst there is a consensus to address the climate change emergency, concerns are now beginning to surface as to the feasibility of the Commission’s proposals within the established timeframe, without additional resources and budget allocations, particularly for those sectors most hit by the Covid pandemic.
As the European Commission highlights, climate change and environmental degradation are an existential threat to Europe and the world. Europe needs to address this as it sets its new growth strategy parallel to exiting the pandemic, and functioning without the United Kingdom. Budgets are tight, but the priority must be to make the EU’s economy sustainable by turning climate and environmental challenges into opportunities, and making the transition just and inclusive for all.
Europe’s Green Deal is accompanied by an action plan, timelines and outlines of investment, including financing tools and aiming to be climate neutral by 2050 the European Union, the Commission will consider a European Climate Law to turn the political commitment into a legal obligation. The Commission has said that it will also provide financial support and technical assistance through the Just Transition Mechanism to help those that are most affected by the move towards the green economy with a planned €100 billion over the period 2021-2027. This budgetary allowance was proposed ahead of the Covid pandemic and may now need to be reconsidered.
Coronavirus has without a doubt dampened the ambitions and expectations established at the start of the new Commission but despite the barriers ahead, the global momentum for environmental multilateralism must continue, and Europe’s Green Deal remains part of that objective. With France taking the EU presidency at the start of 2022, it is hoped that resources and financing will be made available to prioritise the climate change agenda whilst implementing sustainable growth and development for the citizens of Europe and beyond.