EU’s Overshoot Day: A ‘Mayday’ Call for the European Green Deal

Neglecting the urgent reality of the climate and nature crisis under the guise of promoting competitiveness gives Europe’s forward-looking aspirations away to a vocal yet regressive minority, argue Ester Asin, William Todts, Ariel Brunner, Chiara Martinelli, and Patrick ten Brink in Euronews.

If everyone in the world had consumed as much as EU residents have over the last four months, humanity would have exhausted the planet’s natural resources available for the entire year this Friday.

The EU accounts for only 7% of the world’s population and yet we would need three planets to satisfy our demand if everyone on Earth lived like Europeans.

Our planet simply cannot afford Europe’s consumption habits. This is not only unsustainable, it is irresponsible.

Despite the urgency, there is no clear plan in sight to reverse this trend. On the contrary, European Council President Charles Michel, along with other European leaders, has chosen to reduce Europe’s green ambitions to two short lines of text in the Council’s strategic priorities for the next five years.

Leaked a few weeks ago, Michel’s first draft “Strategic Agenda” — the de facto blueprint for the EU programme until 2029 — showed little acknowledgement of the climate crisis.

Nature, pollution and health are completely absent from his plan. Instead, the current text is a major concession to populist and far-right groups that only have one goal: to kill the European Green Deal.

Sticking your head in the sand won’t fix anything

Hiding our heads in the sand and pretending the current climate and nature crisis could be paused in order to promote competitiveness, surrenders the vision for Europe to a vocal and regressive minority.

This approach doesn’t go down well with the majority of Europeans. Indeed, this week, more than 300 civil society organisations representing millions of citizens have joined forces to call on European leaders to tackle the twin crises of biodiversity and climate. They simply don’t want to be irresponsible.

The consequences of our ecological overshoot include global deforestation, biodiversity loss, collapse of fish stocks, water scarcity and pollution, soil erosion, air pollution, and climate change, leading to more frequent extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, and wildfires.

This concerns us all, as Europe is set to suffer temperature increases double that of other continents due to climate change, while risks linked to resource exploitation such as violence, poverty and poor governance put global peace and security at risk.

Inaction on climate, nature and pollution will bring our planet to a breaking point. It will not make our economy more competitive and resilient.

Instead, our leaders need to build on the Green Deal, up our environmental ambition and work harder to make it a success for Europe’s people and businesses.#

The EU needs a strategy that puts it on a stable path towards climate neutrality in line with Paris Agreement goals. This must be accompanied by a long-term social and green investment plan.

Scaling abundant and affordable renewable energy solutions, such as wind and solar, heat pumps, energy efficiency, and electric and sustainable mobility, is the best way to ensure the EU’s energy security, and to create quality jobs in the sustainable and competitive industry of the future and alleviate energy poverty.

It’s not only about Europe, it’s about the world

There is no life without nature. Investing in restoring ecosystems will strengthen our resilience against the worst climate effects: forests, for example, cool down temperatures locally, hold back water in uplands, and can prevent soil erosion while sequestering carbon.

Nature-based solutions are cheaper to implement and maintain than “grey” solutions (dams, dikes, reservoirs, etc.) for the same level of risk reduction.

And of course, people need to be at the heart of the next green deal. The EU urgently needs a comprehensive approach to ensuring a just transition that enables all EU citizens to seize the opportunities of the shift to a climate-neutral and nature-positive economy. 

This must include tackling the systemic injustice that is built into the EU’s food and farming policies and restricts the transformation of our agri-food sector towards climate resilience and sustainability.

European leaders must show political courage and responsibility commensurate with the challenges and opportunities ahead. 

If we don’t continue driving this transition towards a climate-neutral, nature-positive, and healthy EU which protects people and the planet, if we don’t manage to move back the EU Overshoot Day, we will fail not just every single European, but the world.

Ester Asin is Director of WWF European Policy Office; William Todts is Executive Director of Transport & Environment; Ariel Brunner is Regional Director of BirdLife Europe & Central Asia; Chiara Martinelli is Director of CAN Europe; and Patrick ten Brink serves as Secretary General of the European Environmental Bureau.