With the European elections behind us, what could the ‘green wave’ mean for the EU?

By Patrick ten Brink, Director of EU Policy, European Environmental Bureau.

This article first appeared in the printed edition of META.

The environmental challenges facing Europe and humankind – the climate emergency, “insectaggedon” and wider biodiversity crisis, body-changing chemicals exposure, the corrosive effects of poor air quality on health and society – are existential challenges. Each of these challenges underlines the fact that existing commitments and actions are not enough, a series of small steps forward is not enough, tweaking what we have is not enough. 

We need a deep systemic change of our policies and attitudes to people and planet, and we need to answer the calls of the youth in the streets, of civil society groups and of the vast majority of the world’s scientists. The facts are there. The voices too.

The EU is facing a choice about its next Environment Action Programme. The current one ends in 2020 and discussions are designing and deciding its successor now.

The new ‘8EAP’ needs to address the above threats, but to be a motivating ‘green new deal’ it should embrace a positive agenda that responds to citizen expectations and aspirations – for clean air and water, access to rich nature, plastic free oceans, and products we can trust to be free of hazards. 

We need healthy liveable cities, a supporting climate, environmental and social justice. We also need to be able to say that our policy leaders listen to citizens when deciding laws and deliver on their promises.

So what can such a Green New Deal do?

First, it should respond to the clear environment crises and young people’s call for action.

If our existing laws are not ambitious enough to address the existential challenges we face, we need to act. The EU has committed to a transformative circular economy agenda. And many countries are already raising their game, declaring climate emergency, or making serious, bold, needed commitments, such as the new Finnish government’s commitment to go carbon neutral by 2035, or the fact that the New Zealand government has put wellbeing at the heart of all its policies, dethroning GDP growth and crowning a people’s perspective.

Second, we need strategies and action plans for system change to address lock-ins and enable a swifter and just transition to a one-planet economy. 

There is little point taking resource from the ground to make products that are used once and thrown away, when we can reuse, repair, recycle.  There is little point in building roads or new airport runways that lock in greenhouse gas emissions growth, when rail can do the job. There is no point subsidising fossil fuels when we’ve committed to a cleaner future.

Third, we need to implement our promises – EU and national laws on air quality, on chemicals, on protecting nature, and the global Sustainable Development Goals that we worked so hard to negotiate. Implement these, enforce these, and we are a long way towards the future we want, the future our children and their children would thank us for. At the moment, we are not there; and young people rightly feel betrayed.

Together these three paths can form the core of a green new deal. To achieve this requires not just courage and conviction, but also open and cooperative governance; it can only work if there is a serious greening of finance and economics; and can be helped by sensible use of digitalisation and artificial intelligence, an ethical ‘AI for People and Planet’.

We stand before a decision:  a small-steps-forward, ‘business as usual plus’ approach, or a true green new deal that embraces people and planet, and interestingly, will also create a foundation for future sustainable economy. Which do you choose? 

The EEB is developing a civil society vision for the 8EAP and we would be happy to share our working recommendations with any interested parties.

This article was originally printed in our Summer edition of META magazine, available to read online at eeb.org.

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