Europe and Central Asia
12 Dec 2019

The EU Green Deal is not the real deal we so desperately need

By Ariel Brunner

The EU Green Deal is not the real deal we so desperately need The brush strokes of the von der Leyen/Timmermans EU Green Deal are starting to come into focus – but only in the broadest way – there is no pointillisme on the canvas yet.

Most pointed was some specificity on targets to tackle the climate emergency. We are promised a climate law by March 2020 to establish climate neutrality. Its ambition is to reduce emissions by 50 to 60% to actually achieve Paris targets. A proposed target of net-zero carbon by 2050 includes halving emissions by 2030. The most recent scientific data suggests that these targets may be increasingly inadequate to the challenge.

Quite likely the most disappointing, concerning and problematic part of the purported Green Deal is the very vagueness with which the biodiversity crisis is addressed. This is aggravated by the mirage of massive afforestation as a panacea to restoring biodiversity. Although lip service is paid to “full respect for ecological principles favourable to biodiversity”, scepticism is warranted that this may be corrupted by CAP incentives for the forestry industry ensuring a repeat of the bioenergy debacle. A massive nature restoration plan, properly enshrined in law and budget, with targets, principles and details, can be rolled out now. The science exists. If boldly acted upon, this could be a real game changer. Just this one new initiative could bring quick and large-scale wins for biodiversity, climate mitigation and climate adaptation. Setting aside forests to mature towards old growth, rewetting peatlands, reflooding wetlands and re-establishing biodiverse grasslands are all key for reversing the decline of biodiversity on a continent almost entirely degraded by human activities.

Another significant shortcoming is the lack of specific targets and actions in Oceans. The language suggests the ‘down the road’ biodiversity strategy will include a range of objectives for marine Natura2000 sites, a future focus on reducing adverse impacts of fishing with better management of maritime space for sustainability and tapping into renewables (i.e. wind). However, silence reigns with regard to destructive fishing, reducing fish consumption and negative aquaculture impacts.

The unwillingness to tackle or even speak of genuine CAP reform is the elephant in the room. Imprecise references to reducing pesticides and fertilisers, desired sustainability, assigning ‘technology’ the role of emperor’s new clothes as the green saviour for farming are all underpinned by the greenwashing that 40% of CAP funds will contribute to climate action (a claim the Court of Auditors has already termed an ‘invention’). Nothing amounts to the specificity, the concrete targets, the actual plans, nor the courage to grab the agro-industry bull by the horns that are so desperately needed. We must transform the 58 billion euros spent on CAP so that it enables the necessary transition for farming and farmers, and their land use, which is essential to tackle the biodiversity and climate crises. That’s why the silence is so deafening.

Without the club of effective enforcement, regulations and laws are toothless wonders. It is therefore encouraging to hear that Commissioner Sinkevičius has promised zero tolerance and EVP Timmermans promises to make it his personal responsibility. They have no excuses for not delivering. “The Commission will also take a zero tolerance approach to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.” The actual language in the Green Deal refers to processes, including rather softer means, beginning with implementation reviews, monitoring mechanisms ensuring the EU is on track to meet objectives, and dashboards to monitor progress. This suspiciously suggests a slow boat to enforcement compliance.

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Finally we must address our consumption – from meat, dairy and fish, to energy, across the board - we must transition to a society which consumes in a way which doesn’t destroy our planet. The EU Green Deal fails to grasp this troublesome nettle. In brief, then, the best that can be said about the EU Green Deal is the historical precedent it has set. It recognises in its words and aspirations the planetary crisis we face and the EU’s singular responsibility and capacity to address it. There is a coherence to integrating that recognition across the diverse directorates which is unprecedented and encouraging as any potentially viable solution requires a broad transformation of all of our activities. However, the monolith of EU industrial and economic lobbies often pitted against people are a formidable obstacle to the emergency we face and the need to take immediate transformational and concrete actions. We will be following and contributing to the next 100 days as the real ‘vegetable’ is put on the bones of the EU Green Deal by March so we see if it is indeed the Real Deal.

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.