Image: European Union (2020)

How green is the EU’s recovery plan?

The European Commission has shared plans for a recovery fund and a new EU budget, promising to provide the money needed to rebuild in the wake of Covid-19. 

Anton Lazarus and Mauro Anastasio spoke to members of the EEB team to find out how the green the proposals were.  

Anticipation had been growing for weeks about an upcoming European Commission package to support a ‘green recovery’.

As decision-makers considered how best to respond to the social and economic impact of the corona crisis, people all over Europe demanded they “build back better”. More than 1.6 million EU citizens signed petitions calling for a healthy, just and green recovery – and it seems the European Commission was listening. 

The Commission’s plan is to use the European Green Deal as Europe’s recovery strategy, making Europe a world leader in climate and environmental action, creating millions of jobs, improving our health and protecting people against future outbreaks in the process.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “The European Green Deal and digitalisation will boost jobs and growth, the resilience of our societies and the health of our environment.”

The ‘Next Generation EU’ package, which was released together with a proposal for the EU’s next seven-year budget and promises “recovery and resilience” has been cautiously welcomed by green groups. 

Jeremy Wates, Secretary General of the European Environmental Bureau said: “The Commission’s proposals represent an important step in the right direction.”

But Wates also warned that some of the measures announced were “far from perfect”, pointing out that: “The part of the strategy on learning lessons from the crisis doesn’t even mention habitat destruction and biodiversity loss, which have been widely touted as leading causes of new diseases.” 

The announcement also said very little about harmful air and chemical pollution – both major threats to our health and linked to conditions that could make us more vulnerable to the coronavirus

Policy experts from the EEB’s team have already pored over the details and produced a first analysis focusing on eight areas. You can dig into the detail in the EEB’s press release or read on here for a taster. 

Constructive job creation

Ageing buildings are currently responsible for 36% of Europe’s total CO2 emissions, with a large part of the energy used in our homes going to waste due to poor insulation. Polluting heating systems also contribute to harmful air pollution all over Europe. 

An enormous ‘renovation wave’ could provide hundreds of thousands of jobs renovating homes, schools, hospitals and offices, making them more energy efficient, less toxic and less polluting. Solar power and heat pumps have a major role to play. 

The EU’s new €560-billion Recovery and Resilience Facility will provide financial support for investments including the renovation wave – which could cost more than €250 billion a year.

Barbara Mariani, EEB senior policy officer for climate, said: “Improving the energy systems of buildings will provide new quality jobs and cut greenhouse gas pollution, improving people’s quality of life and decreasing Europe’s dependence on the imports of materials and energy.”

Energetic investment drive

The Commission already planned to invest heavily in smart and local grids, storage capacity and the electrification of our distribution systems. Yet funding continues to flow to fossil fuel infrastructure, despite the likelihood of creating stranded assets. 

Yesterday’s announcement included a promise to “[Roll] out renewable energy projects, especially wind, solar and kick-starting a clean hydrogen economy in Europe;”

EEB policy experts warned of the vague language of “clean hydrogen” – which could be produced using renewable energy or made from fossil fuels with the use of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). 

Jonathan Bonadio, EEB policy officer for energy and grids pointed out: “We have enough sun, wind and technology to decarbonise our energy system before 2050. What we lack is a coherent investment plan in energy networks and infrastructure that can produce, transport and store high quantities of renewable energy.”  

Bonadio also stressed the need to end fossil fuel subsidies. 

Recycling outdated concepts

The EU consumes more than its fair share of natural resources – the same as if we had almost three planets available to support our consumption. Experts agree, we need to transform the way we consume so that materials can be safely reused over and over again in a ‘circular economy’. 

While not giving full details on investments, the Commission proposes an EU-wide tax on non recycled plastic packaging – the first of its kind.  More detailed parts of the Commission plans, which were leaked last week included “unprecedented support” for the recycling industry.

EEB experts warned reflects “an outdated understanding of what circular economy means.” They argue that the Commission should instead have focussed on designing waste out of our economy and used its digitalisation agenda to enhance circular business and consumption models that will cut resources use.

Stephane Arditi, policy manager for the circular economy at the EEB:
“Europe has already put forward the world’s most ambitious strategy to reduce waste. Now our leaders must secure enough investments to finance it. But we must go beyond recycling and create new business and consumption models which support the right of consumers to repair and use everyday products for longer.”

Good food from good farms? 

The EU’s agriculture sector is already the recipient of the single largest share of the EU budget (36% since 2014) with the Common Agricultural Policy costing €60 billion every year. Yet despite accounting for 52% of the Commission’s climate spending over the last six years, agriculture is the only sector to have increased emissions since 2012. 

The Commission is proposing to reinforce the budget for the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development by €15 billion, with a view to supporting the earlier announced green objectives in the new biodiversity and Farm to Fork strategies.

EEB experts stressed the need for agriculture funds to be made conditional to the achievement of climate, environmental, and societal targets, and redirected to support farmers in need. 

They also highlighted the impact of agriculture on air pollution and the need to cut emissions from farms. 

Berenice Dupeux, EEB senior policy officer for agriculture, sounded a note of caution about the €15 billion in funding: “There is no guarantee it will finance a green recovery for the farmers nor that it will deliver on the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies.” 

What next? 

The Commission’s proposal will be discussed by the EU’s 27 governments in the coming weeks. A final agreement on the EU budget with the Commission and Parliament is expected by the end of the year or early next year but an agreement about the recovery package could come sooner. 

The green recovery measures will likely be especially appealing to the 19 governments – including the so-called ‘Frugal Four’ of Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden – that have backed a statement calling for the European Green Deal to be made central to the EU’s Covid-19 recovery plans

Follow @Green_Europe on Twitter for the latest news on the #EUGreenDeal.

And check out the EEB’s press release for a more detailed analysis.