by Nataly Machado, Master's student in EU Law, UMinho
There are several reports of reductions in pollutant emissions caused by the global shutdown due to the pandemic. Images taken via satellites and drones show us the record of abrupt drops in air and water pollution levels[i].
Unfortunately, there are also news about increased deforestation in areas such as the Amazon and the Pantanal[ii], concomitant with the new coronavirus crisis. In addition to what happens during the pandemic, the concern exists for the forthcoming post-crisis, which may show a sharp increase in the level of pollutant emissions due to the economic recovery, as occurred in other post-crises, such as the Spanish flu in 1918, the Great Depression in 1929 and the financial crisis in 2008[iii].
It is a reality that the new coronavirus has changed and will change, drastically, the people’s and public authorities’ priorities. Life must be protected. Until a vaccine is developed, public health control measures combined with strict social and economic measures will be implemented to handle the consequences that have already affected many countries around the globe.
It is worth mentioning that in face of the health crisis due COVID-19 and its effects spreading around the world, which is most definitely a priority at this very moment, the climate and environmental crisis must be put on the agenda of economic reconstruction. Hence why the European Parliament urged the European Commission to consider the existence of a climate and environmental emergency at European and global levels and that addressing it is still a deep and urgent matter (through a Resolution edited on November 28, 2019[iv]).
In the European Union, it is no different. And as the Member States strive to gradually resume an economic and social recovery, they do it in such way as to avoid the idea of continuous growth at any cost tied to polluting technologies, but take as premise human needs, respecting Earth’s limited resources, in line with a green pact and connected to new technologies.
This ambitious pact already exists and is the European Green Deal[v]. A promising response to climate and environmental emergencies, the Pact was launched by a Communication from the European Commission, in December 2019, defining a plan of 50 common and transversal actions to all European policies, in order to allow the European Union achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and focus economic policy around the sustainability and well-being of its citizens.
Given the transversality brought about by the Green Deal, as it proposes to accelerate and support a green and fair transition in all sectors, the EU strategy revolves around growth that aims “to transform the EU into a fair and prosperous society, with a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy”[vi], with the perspective of ensuring incentives aimed at adapting to climate change, in a continuous drive of public and private investments, and the inclusion of solutions based on nature, “ensuring that no one is left behind” [vii].
The Green Deal’s goal is for growth to be inclusive within a sustainable model, collectively mobilizing European industry for a circular and clean economy, with the implementation of adapting mechanisms to the aforementioned transition that brakes, or rather, neutralizes risk of carbon emissions from leaving the European Union Emissions Trading System. By doing so, it would ensure success of Union’s efforts regarding its desired climate objectives not only at European level, but at the global level, in its leading role in the field of climate and global action.
To ensure that this transition is fair and effective, the Commission has set clear conditions to provide predictability to investments by funding 25% of all EU programs for climate mainstreaming, not to mention other revenue streams. In addition, the European Commission’s proposal includes support for technical assistance and advisory services in order to put said projects into practice. In other words, the Green Deal proposal sets a fair environment for all Member States at the European and national levels.
The proposed change is refreshing and brings with it a proposal for a European Climate Law[viii], which plans to guarantee a European Union with a neutral climate impact by 2050. It is clear, however, that this project no longer has the same socio-economic background as when it was announced, as we are experiencing a new crisis. And worse: that adds up to the environmental crisis, that is still urgent.
The fact is that in the same way that the Green Deal is the result of a collective political understanding, in which European citizens understand that actions must be taken in favor of the climate emergency, the time to put into practice the ecological transition proposed by the Green Deal is now, united in the collective and solidarity European effort, in the post-pandemic socio-economic recovery.
Efforts in favor of the Green Deal can already be seen in a petition addressed to the European Commission, under the name “European Alliance for a Green Recovery”[ix], and signed by Member States and various sectors of civil society[x], so that economic recovery, once the COVID-19 pandemic is overcome, takes place under the “green pact” script, as a strategic pillar for the European Union’s economy.
The COVID-19 crisis brings the lesson that efforts to keep the fundamental values of the European Union’s citizens protected must be more cohesive than ever. The problems to be faced are innumerous and immediate. But what may be able to make a difference, even if the deadlines for achieving the Green Deal goals are postponed[xi], is the Union showing the capacity to allow long-term goals, towards a sustainable and fair society, to direct necessary actions to overcome short-term emergencies in a unique and unprecedented opportunity by making the Green Deal a key component of the reconstruction of European economies.
Therefore, the European Union’s greatest challenge is to have the same dedication, at least, that it had to decrease the speed of contagion of COVID-19, by making efforts to lower the growth curve of the spread of the disease, to reduce the curve of unrestrained growth based on old polluting technologies in order not to reach – worse, exceed – the limits of the planet’s resources in a way that has no return.
[i] Information available at https://www.esa.int/ESA_Multimedia/Images/2020/04/Deserted_Venetian_lagoon https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/01/dramatic-fall-in-china-pollution-levels-partly-related-to-coronavirus https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/23/coronovirus-impact-satellites-show-world-cities-after-outbreak.html https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/18/photos-water-in-venice-italys-canals-clear-amid-covid-19-lockdown.html [27.04.2020].
[ii] Information available at https://www.wsj.com/articles/amazon-deforestation-accelerates-as-coronavirus-pandemic-hinders-enforcement-11587586399 and https://www.time24.news/t24/2020/05/even-with-the-covid-19-pandemic-pantanal-has-a-historical-record-of-fires-in-early-2020-05-01-2020-environment.html [04.05.2020].
[iii] Information available at https://observador.pt/especiais/nao-a-pandemia-nao-e-boa-para-o-ambiente-mas-pode-deixar-pistas-para-um-futuro-sustentavel/ [27.04.2020].
[iv] Information available at https://oeil.secure.europarl.europa.eu/oeil/popups/summary.do?id=1600739&t=d&l=en https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20191121IPR67110/the-european-parliament-declares-climate-emergency For further development about the motions for a resolution, see https://oeil.secure.europarl.europa.eu/oeil/popups/ficheprocedure.do?lang=en&reference=2019/2930(RSP) [27.04.2020].
[v] For further development, see European Commission, Communication From The Commission To The European Parliament, The European Council, The Council, The European Economic And Social Committee And The Committee Of The Regions The European Green Deal COM/2019/640 final, in https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1588580774040&uri=CELEX%3A52019DC0640 [27.04.2020].
[vi] For further development, see European Commission, Communication From The Commission To The European Parliament, The European Council, The Council, The European Economic And Social Committee And The Committee Of The Regions The European Green Deal COM/2019/640 final, in https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1588580774040&uri=CELEX%3A52019DC0640 [27.04.2020].
[vii] For further development, see European Commission, Communication From The Commission To The European Parliament, The European Council, The Council, The European Economic And Social Committee And The Committee Of The Regions The European Green Deal COM/2019/640 final, in https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1588580774040&uri=CELEX%3A52019DC0640 [27.04.2020].
[viii] For further development, see European Commission, Proposal for a Regulation Of The European Parliament And Of The Council establishing the framework for achieving climate neutrality and amending Regulation (EU) 2018/1999 (European Climate Law) COM/2020/80 final, in https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1588581905912&uri=CELEX%3A52020PC0080 [05.05.2020].
[ix] Information available at https://www.impel.eu/alliance-appeal-for-green-recovery-from-covic-19-pandemic/ [03.05.2020].
[x] Information available at https://www.euractiv.com/section/energy-environment/news/france-germany-join-group-of-10-eu-countries-calling-for-green-recovery/ [03.05.2020].
[xi] Information available at https://www.euractiv.com/section/energy-environment/news/leaked-full-list-of-delayed-european-green-deal-initiatives/ [03.05.2020].
Pictures credits: Green revolution… by sumanley.