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Coronavirus and climate change: can Europe fight two crises at once?

Written by on 6 mai 2020

“Carbon neutrality in Europe by 2050”. That’s one of the main goals of the European Green Deal, to shift away from polluting industries and technologies in favour of green alternatives. The plan was presented at the end of last year by the new European Commission. But has the coronavirus crisis threatened its progress? To talk about the future of the European Green Deal in a post-coronavirus Europe, we are joined by Martin Hojsík. Mr Hojsík is a member of the Progressive Slovakia party and of the European parliament. He is also an expert on environmental policy.

The coronavirus crisis has come as we are already dealing with a seperate crisis: the climate crisis. 

Is Europe in a position to tackle both ?

“I believe that we are in a position to tackle both. The coronavirus crisis will require a massive public investment into the recovery, so this is an opportunity to use these investments to kick start the green transition. The questions are : where do we put the public money to work, where do we invest them in the best possible way, so they not only help us with the green transition but they also provide jobs. One of the simplest and most straightforward examples is the renovation wave initiative in the building sector. We use lots of energy to heat and to cool our buildings. If we make our buildings more energy efficient, we will save money on the heating and cooling cost, we will provide jobs not only in the domain of reconstructions but also in the entire supply chain and also different types of jobs from low skill to high skill labour, and we will also lower our dependence on the import of the fossil fuels. The latter is especially true for countries of central and eastern Europe that rely on russian on russian gas and oil a lot. And last but definitely not least we will reduce our greenhouse emissions. So it’s a win-win scenario. We need to look for more of those solutions and we need to support the renovation in different sectors of industry, including the heavy industry. We need to continue making steel and therefore we can now invest in the renovations and upscaling of the heavy industry, improve the uptake of renewables. Also it’s time to really look deep into the entire transport sector, on how we can decarbonise it. And let’s not forget, we have to also concentrate on the biodiversity protection, forestation and restoration of biodiversity. And I think what is equally important, is to start working towards a more circular economy. Because if you remember one of the issue that we faced in the past is the problem with the plastic waste. This problem doesn’t go away itself, but by fostering a more circular economy and building better recycling capacities in Europe, where we can recycle plastic into new products within Europe, we are going to create jobs. I believe there is a lot of added values in this for the European economy as well as for the European people by providing jobs and improving the standard of living.”

Is it looking likely that the EU member states will keep to their commitments to carbon neutrality by 2050 ?

“I am quite optimistic about it. I think that what we see around Europe, that the commitments have not really changed despite the earlier more sceptical rhetoric by polish and other governments. I truly believe we do not have any chance but to pursue with green recovery. Because if we didn’t act on the climate change in Europe but also around the world, it would incur a tremendous cost that really outweighs anything else. Compared to the impact of the climate emergency, the coronavirus crisis is really small, even though it’s as big as it is. The climate change is really the big shark swimming in the pool while we are trying to outrun the smaller one.” 

Can Europe ensure a green recovery from the coronavirus pandemic? 

It seems already that several countries are not on board with the idea, such as Poland and the Czech republic. Leaders of these countries have expressed desire for a quick economic recovery without environmental constraints. 

“Well, I am hopeful and I am very optimistic that Europe will pursue the green recovery, because ultimately it’s providing more jobs and it’s providing more prosperity for Europe. And yes, of course there is some pushback on different fronts against this. But at the same time, we can see that not only the environmentalists, not only the green minded politicians, but also large parts of the economy and of the industry are calling for the greener recovery. There is now the green recovery alliance  that was led by Pascal Canfin, french MEP from La République en marche and part of the Renew Europe groupe, who is chairing the environment committee. And several CEOs from big multinational companies also joined this alliance. There has been an official letter by more than sixty large german business to the german government calling on them to make sure that the recovery from the coronavirus crisis will be a green one. I believe that even the business community sees the necessity of a substantial change and sees this crisis as an opportunity to kickstart a transition towards sustainable european economy. And I think this is a really good sign and I hope that this positive pressure will continue on all fronts until we will finally achieve it.“

Would a green recovery have to include everyone in order to work? In other words, would member states have to agree unanimously to it in order for it to have an impact?

“I don’t have a clear answer to this question. It’s not sure right know which decision will have to be taken by unanimity and which will be taken by majority. But I saw that ultimately even thought some countries voice reservations towards the Green Deal in the national media, on the other hand when it comes to the European Council meetings, even for example czech prime minister is supportive of the conclusions that call for upholding the objectives of the Green Deal. So I believe that at the end of the day, the discussions will lead to a more supportive position from Czech republic and Poland and other member states. For example the new slovak government has already supported the Green Deal and green recovery by co-signing a declaration from several european climate and environment ministers that calls for greener measures. I believe this will not be the usual west – east division, because a number of the former soviet bloc countries see themselves the massive benefits in going for the green recovery.”

What, in your opinion, are the biggest challenges facing the European Union, and Europe as a whole, right now ?

“One things is going to be on how we ensure the solidarity among European countries. Coronavirus is not a fault of any particular european country, and being able to stick together, being able to say “we have differences in number of issues, but we are way stronger together” is very important. This is going to be the key element that we need to take from this crisis. Second, I believe that what is going to be very important is to see that the rule of law values are something that we cannot compromise. Of course we have big concerns about the situation in Hungary and Poland in this regard. And I hope this will be addressed. And last but not least, the other challenge will be for Europe to strive for more, as commission president Ursula von der Leyen said almost a year ago. That Europe will not be an union of the lowest common denominator but that Europe will need to be the union that is trying to lead in number of areas. And I believe in the current world, this is where Europe belongs. Europe really has great potential and it’s just up to us to realise it and make it happen. No one else can do it, just us.”


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