How Green is Europe’s Green Economic Recovery?
In June, the IMF (International Monetary Fund) released a report stating that the world GDP would end 2020 with a 5% drop. The reaction of world markets to the suspension of their businesses and stocks due to the coronavirus pandemic was such that this projected recession is compared to the Great Depression. But in 2020, we have a new difficulty: the red light of the climate crisis. 2019 ended with promises of a decade focused on sustainable economic investments and, now, world leaders have presented plans to heat the economy in a “greener” way. Or, so they say. So, what is being said and done is really what’s required to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement?
The covid-19 economic slump means more than just a drop in GDP. It hits the educational system, with the closing of schools and precariousness of the classes; in the health system, with service overload and material scarcity; with rising unemployment, poverty, and hunger. To make matters worse, the NGO Climate Action Trackers published a report emphasizing that “if governments don’t roll out low carbon development strategies and policies — or roll back existing climate policies — in response to the coming economic crisis, emissions could rebound and even overshoot previously projected levels by 2030, despite lower economic growth in the period”.
That is one more reason why, despite the important measures already planned in the short term, it is necessary for our leaders to think about the problem in the long term — the climate collapse — which is already happening mildly and tends to intensify until the end of the decade.
This moment of economic recovery is also an opportunity to reinforce policies around greener societies. European nations are synonymous with sustainability in our social imaginary — for example, think about Barcelona’s garbage system, the quantity of available food without agrochemicals, and the number of bike trails in the European capitals — but they are all far from being “green enough” to reach the UN Sustainable Development Goal 13: action against global climate change.
Let’s analyze the pre-coronavirus data when we were still living in a “normal” scenario. The 2020 Sustainable Development Report ranked countries’ progress in combating extreme poverty, including factors that contribute to it, such as health and gender equality. In this edition, referring to 2019, the European countries accounted for 13 of the first 15 places however a recurrent criticism for all of them was: no state was outside the “red zone” of the climate, in other words, none was in line with SDG 13.
Looking a little bit closer, the TOP 3 countries: Sweden, Denmark, and Finland, are known for their quality of life, education, and gender equality. However, while Sweden gains positive points for the use of clean energy — renewable sources play an important role for the country’s energy supply — it remains with the challenge of reducing its electronic waste and its emissions of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide, the latter coming from burning fossil fuels.
Denmark maintains its high position thanks to low rates of poverty, inequality, and malnutrition. However, in addition to having the same problems with greenhouse gas emissions as Sweden, it is also ranked 46th in the world ranking of the Ocean Health Index. Finland had a positive note in terms of access to basic sanitation, labor rights, and justice, but there was dissatisfaction with public transport and its spending on Development Assistance Abroad (ODA).
Modefica contacted the creators of the Sustainable Development Report with the question: “why, even though the top 15 countries on the list have developed good policies regarding the health system, education system, labor rights, among others, they are still short of UN SDG 13 (Climate Action)? ”. The team responded that “many countries combine two issues concerning SDG13: high domestic emissions and high CO2 emissions incorporated into trade”, adding that “progress is generally very slow. More efforts must be made to reduce GHG emissions, at the domestic level and in unsustainable supply networks (cocoa, coffee, soy, cement, textiles, steel, etc.), which generate emissions and other negative social, climate, and biodiversity effects in other countries”.
What has been proposed so far
Some of the measures that are being put into practice today have already been used previously, in the recovery from the economic crisis of 2008–09. On April 17, the Austrian government ruled that any state aid to support the airline Austrian Airlines must come with specific climatic conditions, such as options to reduce short-haul flights, greater cooperation with railway companies, and greater use of greener fuels [1 ]. In the United Kingdom, approximately 200 companies have called for measures for a more sustainable economic recovery, such as corporate loans subject to the goal of zeroing net emissions.
Efforts must be made to reduce GHG emissions at the domestic level and in unsustainable supply networks, which generate emissions and other negative social effects, on climate and biodiversity in other countries
Despite this, according to the Energy Policy Tracker — a survey carried out by several international organizations — the main G20 countries have turned public money towards investment in energy from fossil fuels. The measures of the 20 largest economies add up to US $ 151 billion (R $ 781 billion) for fossil energy companies, with the only ⅓ of that amount subject to environmental requirements, such as carbon reductions and other air pollutants. Meanwhile, energy from renewable sources received only US$ 89 billion (R$ 460 billion). In other words, there is still a considerable gap between the proposal and what has been done.
The Energy Policy Trackers database is committed to monitoring G20 public spending for the global energy sector. These expenditures currently revolve around: fossil fuels (56%), clean energy (33%), others (11%). These actions must be checked and charged closely. Every day, a new step around the economic recovery is taken, as in the case of the European Union negotiations, closed on July 21, around the reconstruction of the post-coronavirus economy. The package scheduled for the next seven years mobilizes more than € 1.8 trillion (R$ 10.9 trillion) for a green geopolitical and economic project.
While the European Green Deal details actions needed for the transition from the economic bloc to a clean economy by 2050, the plan signed on July 21 allocates only 30% of the total amount to climate actions, which experts say is insufficient. The four-day meeting in Brussels, capital of Belgium, sentenced an investment of almost € 550 billion (R$ 3.4 trillion) in the next six years — while the experts estimated € 2.4 trillion (R$ 15 trillion) to finance the long-awaited “green transition”.
A chance for greener policies
The political decisions of the coming months will not only show the efficiency of each state in dealing with the economic recession, but they will also shape our lives in the next decade. These decisions can trigger a climatic disaster, an increase in chronic hunger, or they can be the starting point for more sustainable public policies and greener economic incentives, as exemplified above. The agenda for combating climate change must go hand in hand with all sectors because that way, Nature transits in our lives — beside us, not in a distant imagination.
The Climate Action Tracker estimates that thanks to Covid-19, global CO2 emissions resulting from the burning of fossil fuels and industry will fall by 4 to 11% in 2020. And from 1 to 9% in 2021. Although emissions will rise again as countries reheat their industries, this is an opportunity for political leaders to decide which industries deserve the support of their taxpayers. And this is the opportunity for society to make it clear to its leaders that it does not support unsustainable measures.
If the G20 countries — and here we highlight the European ones — focus on aligning their recovery plans with the SDGs, and if they listen to their citizens, they will be fulfilling their “green development” role. But for now, considering their actions, that term is a bit ironic, in quotes.