“All the world began with a yes”: on the EU strategies towards an environmental citizenship

by Nataly Machado (Master's student in EU Law, UMinho)

In a year of so many turbulences and uncertainties, the last month of 2020 contained dates that must be remembered and questioned about how is possible to improve what was once idealized and started. These are events that reveal changes in growing recognition of the global climate crisis as well as the EU strategies towards achieving environmental protection. 

1 year ago: on 11 December 2019, the European Commission announced the European Green Deal. It is a response with the objective of tackling climate and environmental-related challenges to transform the EU into the first climate neutral continent by 2050 with a just and inclusive transition, a clean, affordable, and secure energy supply, a modernized EU industry, a clean and circular economy and sustainable and smart mobility, with the protection of biodiversity[i].

5 years ago: on 12 December 2015, the Paris Agreement has signed and, as a legally binding international treaty on climate change, is a landmark in the multilateral climate change, in which all abiding nations commit to undertake efforts to combat climate change, in order to limit global warming preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels[ii].

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Thinking about the post-COVID-19 world is putting the European Green Deal into practice: this is the time for the European Union to respond in line with “green”

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 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.
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Editorial of June 2020

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 by Carlos Abreu Amorim, Professor of Administrative and Environmental Law, UMinho


The European Green Deal as a model of world leadership in the recovery of Covid-19 crisis

In July 2019, the candidate for President of the European Commission, the German Ursula von der Leyen, presented a program entitled “My Agenda for Europe, Political Guidelines for the Next European Commission 2019-2024”. Concrete goals were set there during her tenure, such as “An European Green Deal”; “An economy that works for people”; “A Europe fit for the digital age”; “Protecting our European way of life”; “A stronger Europe in the world”; “A new push for European democracy”. Those axis were reaffirmed on 1st December 2019, when she took office as president of the new college of commissioners.

Although these priorities are necessarily interlinked and can be considered as similar challenges, we highlight the European Green Deal as a remarkable turning effort in the institutional logics of environmental protection adding a desired projection of the will of the European Union (EU) to assert itself as a world leader in the defense of the values of justice, solidarity and quality of life, amongst which safeguarding the environment is the indispensable background of our times.

This is not the first European plan for environmental protection, of course. The history of the EU’s environmental policy is long, notably since the Paris Summit, held from 19th to 21st October 1972, following the then hopeful and innovative success of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, which took place a few months earlier in Stockholm from 5 to 16 June, through the modifications of the Treaties which enabled the express consecration of the protection of environmental values with the Single European Act (1986) until the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (2007).[i] In this context, the EU has already approved seven multi-annual environmental action in the field of the environment since  1973, the latter of which was adopted by the Council and Parliament in 2013  to be in force until 2020.
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1st August 2018, Earth Overshoot Day

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 by Sophie Perez Fernandes, Junior Editor

According to data from the Global Footprint Network, August 1 is Earth Overshoot Day 2018.

Earth Overshoot Day is an initiative of Global Footprint Network, a non-profit international research organization dedicated to the development and promotion of tools to promote sustainable development. The date of Earth Overshoot Day is calculated by comparing two metrics: the Global Ecological Footprint, humanity’s total yearly consumption, with biocapacity, Earth’s capacity to regenerate renewable natural resources in that year. Both metrics are calculated each year with National Footprint Accounts and using UN statistics and data from additional sources.

As explained in the website, Earth Overshoot Date marks the date when all of humanity have used more from nature than our planet can renew in the entire year. According to the information disclosed last June, humanity will have exhausted on August 1, that is, in just over seven months, its entire nature’s resource budget of 2018. As from that date, the world will live on credit in 2018 – an environmental credit that, according to the data disclosed, is contracted earlier and earlier. Exceeding in 1961, planet Earth registered the first deficit in its environmental budget in the 1970s. Since then, the growing ecological footprint that accompanies the demographic and economic growth of the planet explains that Earth Overshoot Day occurs ever earlier – until the earliest date calculated of August 1 in 2018.
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Editorial of November 2017

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by Sophie Perez Fernandes, Junior Editor


The forest fires in Portugal and the EU

The Author of this post took the photo above during a common episode of her daily life, returning from work. While I was waiting for someone I stared at the landscape around me. Sadly, I realized, on that sunny, bright and warm October day, that the surrounding green I’d been accustomed to had partially disappeared. And I photographed it. I will not bother the reader with the reasons – these are personal and subjective. That is not the case of the reasons for its disclosure with this post.

The place photographed will not be revealed. The place is not the point – and not being the point, it is the point. It could be anywhere. That landscape is not only the one I photographed in that spur of the moment. Anyone present in that place, at that moment, was contemplating the same landscape – it was not a matter of me, but of us. And similar landscapes are, sadly, scattered through Portugal today and will remain for a long while – us is so much bigger than that place, at that moment.

And because the forest fires that ravaged Portugal in 2017 are so much bigger than that place (Portugal), at that moment (2017), the European within me was on alert as well.

The forest fires that occurred in Portugal were impressive not only because of their dimension and their impact, but also because of the unusual period of recent occurrences. In addition to the heavy human losses – the number of fatalities tragically exceeds a hundred – and to the equally heavy ecosystemic damage – associated with the loss of biodiversity always linked to any phenomenon of forest degradation/destruction –, the anomalous character of the forest fires recorded on October 15 and 16 also generates awareness to the reality of climate change.

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