A trailblazer for the ecological transition 

How a European Pact for the Future can ensure leadership for sustainable development and global justice.

As the European Union approaches elections, discussions about the next set of political priorities are paramount. It seems that some political leaders want to sweep the climate-biodiversity-pollution crisis under the carpet. Also the fact that extreme poverty and inequality have been on the rise since 2019 often go unnoticed – putting the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Agenda even more at risk. Civil society stands up for a European Pact for the Future, a green and social deal for a one-planet economy. The Pact puts a clear emphasis on global justice and asks to keep long-term sustainability at the top of political priorities.

The EU and its Member States’ policies, economic practices, trade patterns and consumption choices can all have positive or negative impacts on the rest of the world. Negative externalities include climate change effects, environmental and social impacts of raw material extraction or health impacts caused by highly hazardous chemicals and pesticides made in Europe. EU policies can have a major positive impact, too, where they lead to improved environmental, social and human rights standards in the supply chains of those selling on the EU market or where trade creates value and decent work in third countries. The EU can enter partnerships at eye level and drive the localisation of aid, share technology and knowledge under fair and equal terms to increase wellbeing and health and enable other countries’ path to decarbonisation and de-pollution. Walking the talk of the European Green Deal’s objectives can increase the EU’s credibility in international negotiations – as seen in the additional EU heft and impact on the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework or the launch of negotiations towards a global Plastics Treaty.  

Going forward, the EU must recognise that historical injustices and inequalities persist today and embrace responsibility for the wrongs of the past. The EU should minimise its negative impacts globally and to ensure fair conditions for trade and balanced financial flows between the Global North and South. It has an opportunity to lead by example, to learn from others’ leadership and to cooperate on the common challenges at eye level with its partners in the Global South. As an integral part of the European Pact for the Future, we are asking for the next legislative cycle that all EU internal and external policies should be guided by human rights, equity and global justice.

First, the EU should fully implement the promises made in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Agenda and commitments under the Paris Agreement, the Global Biodiversity Framework, the Global Framework on Chemicals and all environmental agreements to demonstrate responsibility and respect for global processes and the community of actors trying to construct a better future. Consistency and leading by example are important for credibility.  

Internationally, the EU should systematically invest in supporting and strengthening ties and the global rules-based system to avoid demagogues, autocrats and conflicts from eroding multilateralism, global partnership and peace. Wneed the EU and Member States to be the leading voice of environmental multilateralism, going into negotiations with high ambition, for instance the on-going negotiations of a Global Plastics Treaty, putting funding to international processes, building strong partnerships with countries in the Global South and speaking up for meaningful engagement of civil society. We need the EU to set the global environmental agenda on emerging issues such as the need for resource governance or the regulation of chemicals at global level. 

The EU can accelerate global “Green Deal” diplomacy by positioning itself as a global frontrunner. It can promote dialogue and cooperation with like-minded countries around the world and build new partnerships to encourage de-pollution and decarbonisation of industrial production. It can do so by securing “reciprocity clauses” going beyond carbon emissions to oblige companies willing to enter the EU Single Market to comply with social and environmental standards. Such policies need to be developed in close cooperation with our partners to make sure their concerns and needs are fully understood and accounted for. 

While we roll out strong policies to use the power of the EU’s market, we should closely collaborate with low-income countries to prevent and reduce negative impacts on economic development caused by EU measures, such as the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) or the Deforestation Law. Monies levied through CBAM need to be fully reinvested in decarbonisation measure in low-income countries or the Loss and Damage Fund (LDF). 

In 2024-2029, the EU will have to roll out its Fit-For-90 package to make sure we can deliver on our carbon neutrality commitment. While we have shown that the EU can reach net zero by 2040, the EU must decolonialise decarbonisation. That means, we need to become true partners for countries in the Global South supporting their transition to net zero. We cannot support energy imports from Global South countries where those are unable to fulfil the basic energy needs of their own population or where energy production undermines those countries’ biodiversity, nature protection, food production or water resilience. Africa cannot be the EU’s source of cheap renewable energy and green hydrogen before all Africans have access to affordable green energy themselves.

In many ways, trade structures and imbalances set up in colonial times still impact the flow of resources, goods and money globally. Today, the global North drains commodities worth $2.2 trillion every year from the Global South. That amount of money would be enough to end extreme poverty, globally, fifteen times over, and is a stark illustration of the need for global justice and equity. The EU’s trade policy needs to be reoriented at ensuring partner countries in the Global South are not forever locked at the bottom of the global value chain by providing cheap resources and labour, with most profits flowing to the North. The EU needs to end unfair trading practices and refocus trade on delivering wellbeing for people in respect of planetary boundaries. 

To make supply chains fair, we need to implement the new Sustainable Corporate Due Diligence Directive and support member states in transposing it into national legislation to stop human rights violations and environmental harm caused by European supply and value chains. 

The EU needs to work towards a reform of the global financial architecture, towards ending the debt spiral in which many countries in the Global South are locked in. Many low-income countries are falling into a vicious cycle of debt and austerity, that only exacerbates the multiple crises. The EU needs to champion a new international debt resolution mechanism. 

Sufficient public money for the green and just transition depends on income from tax. We need the EU to end its resistance against a global tax framework, a tool which is supported by an overwhelming majority of states in the UN General Assembly. It is needed to ensure international tax cooperation, going beyond the OECD framework which is dominated by the wealthy economies and has not prevented multinationals from channeling money through tax havens. The Tax Justice Network warned that countries could lose nearly $5 trillion in tax revenue over the next decade due to tax havens. The U.K., the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland are among the countries enabling the loss of public money – all four are also members of the OECD. 

Privileged countries need to pay a fair share for the mitigation and adaptation of environmental damage, in line with their disproportionate responsibility for breaching planetary boundaries. Financial flows need to be reversed to flow from those countries that have benefited most from the unjust structures to those that have been disadvantaged. The EU and Member States must engage fully in the Climate Loss and Damage Fund (LDF). We need to EU to drive decision-making at international level to tap into new funding sources including new taxes and levies, for instance, levies on fossil fuel extraction. Historic responsibilities should be explored also in other areas such as fisheries and minerals extraction.

As one of the leading actors in international development cooperation, the EU needs to ensure that funding for sustainable development is fully aligned with its objectives of carbon neutrality, zero pollution and biodiversity and nature protection and that all projects funded by EU monies deliver on gender equality and social justice with a clear human rights-based approach. We need the EU to champion the localisation of aid, as currently just above 2% of donor money goes to local organisations with the biggest chunk of international cooperation funds still channelled to governments, agencies, and organisations operating internationally. 

Finally, the EU needs to make sure our products do not pollute people and nature in 3rd countries. The EU should stop the export of harmful chemicals, including pesticides if it does not allow them to be used here, nor import products it does not authorise production of within the EU. This protects human health and ensures coherence and EU credibility. We need to ramp up the Waste Shipment Regulation and its implementation to stop the export of waste to the Global South, where hidden as items for the second-hand market. We finally need to make sure; the EU does use the Global South as its chunk yard.

In summary, the EU should work systematically with third countries to support a green and just transition globally. It should do all it can to be brokers of justice and peace and push for international collaboration on climate, zero pollution, nature restoration, resource management and a fair trade and financial architecture to work towards equity and justice and to prevent future conflicts.  

To ask the EU and its next political leaders to be the global trailblazer of the ecological transformation, sign The European Pact for the Future now.