The EU Green Deal: Our Engine for Recovery – Europe on the Path Towards a Greenhouse Gas Free Society

9th June 2020 – CEIPA Roundtable

The EU Green Deal: Our Engine for Recovery – Europe on the Path Towards a Greenhouse Gas Free Society

I am pleased to invite you to attend the CEIPA video conference – “The EU Green Deal, Our Engine for Recovery – Europe on the Path Towards a Greenhouse Gas-Free Society”

The CEIPA video conference will take place through ZOOM.

Tuesday 9th of June 2020

from 2.30pm to 5.pm

Organised by the Centre for European and International Policy Action (CEIPA), this inter-disciplinary event will discuss policy reforms tabled by the European Green Deal initiative. Subsequently, this event will aim at identifying and discussing the main issues and challenges in making the European Green Deal initiative a reality and success.

Will Europe be ready and willing to mobilise substantial political support and resources for far reaching reform, creating synergies between energy, agricultural, environmental, consumer protection and labour market policies, given that it is preparing for a major economic set back in the aftermath of the Coronavirus pandemic and still coping with the final stages of Brexit negotiations?

Will governments in the member states of the European Union show enough resilience and determination towards consequent reforms of the common agricultural policy and take effective steps to protect, monitor and restore forests, natural habitat and biodiversity?

Will they commit themselves to large scale and continual allocation of resources and investments for the production of renewable energies such as hydrogen, solar, wind, etc., making Europe competitive and prosperous?

Will society and the political elite in Europe give up a little of their national egoism and stand for a long-term transition, gradually closing the doors for polluting fossil fuels and paving the way for a continent free of greenhouse gas emissions?

The CEIPA video conference will bring together policy makers, researchers, government and EU representatives, civil society, press and media, international organisations and public administrators.

The working language will be English.

Further information on how to attend the video conference will be released in due course. To register to attend the conference, please click here to be taken to the Zoom registration page.

We look forward to your participation at this event,

Peter von Bethlenfalvy
Executive Director
CEIPA

 

CEIPA is committed to discussing major policy issues leading towards straightening EU polices in sectors and fields which are, by nature, multi-lateral, super national and global.

Climate change, migration, security, international crime and human rights are priority issues for CEIPA. Subsequently CEIPA follows closely the development and implementation of the of the Green Deal initiative.

The upcoming event on the 9th of June 2020 will focus on the Green Deal initiative and its implication for the future of Europe. Renowned European experts and policy makers will present their views on the current state of affairs and shed the light on the challenges of protecting forests, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and furthering green energy such as hydrogen, wind and solar.

The world population is today approximately 7.8 billion; the current average annual growth rate is estimated at 81 million people. A population growth of this rate would suggest a considerable increase of several things; energy consumption, industrial and consumer goods production, exploitation of natural resources, carbon dioxide emissions, deforestation, destruction of natural habitats and loss of biodiversity.

Yet population growth globally is beginning to slow. Perhaps more worrying than a growth in population is the growth in global consumption of goods, food and fossil fuels, particularly in more affluent countries and regions, and this growth shows no signs of slowing.

Daily, more than 1000 square meters of land are being covered by concrete, in order to expand industrial sites or to build roads and houses. Thousands of hectares of forests and natural habitat are being transformed into mono-cultures for agricultural and food production sites. This all leads to an increase in carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions, which in turn adversely affects climate change, the health of citizens and biodiversity.

One million of the eight million species on our planet are at risk of being exterminated by our use of fossil fuels, ongoing deforestation and the destruction of natural habitats. Illegal and semi-legal timber trading remains a reality in spite of all existing EU policies, instruments, legal frameworks, bodies and initiatives proscribing such practises.

The European Green Deal initiative is tackling all these issues in a positive and constructive way.  The EU policy makers and national political leaders are now in the driving seats to take on these challenges and lead society towards a major rethink of industrial, investment and energy policies in Europe.

The Green Deal Initiative

The plans represented by the European Commission’s Green Deal initiative are a historic change, comparable to the enactment of the Schengen Agreement, the European Coal and Steel Community (being the cradle of the EU), or of EURO currency and EU enlargement.

The EU Commission has been continually criticised for not taking enough initiative in major fields of public life, affecting and impacting the future of Europe in positive ways. The Communication on the Green Deal introduced by Vice President Frans Timmermans in November last year is a far reaching and entirely future oriented strategic initiative undertaking the chance to make Europe strong, secure and competitive in the future decades ahead. It gives the torch of leadership to the European policy makers to transform Europe, its industries and society into a greenhouse gas emission free continent.

Those who criticise the EU Commission and the European institutions for not taking action to address issues of major societal interest, now have a chance to mobilise on national and trans-national levels to make the European Green deal a working reality. However, it will only work if all segments of society, interest groups, industries and influential opinion leaders decide to fully support the process of transition.

It begins with the reform of agricultural and environmental policies and ends with a strong renewable energy production, in particular green hydrogen energy production in Europe.

The question is, is Europe ready, at this moment of the resurrection of populism and scepticism towards the European project, to undertake an industrial and societal transition of such a scale? Is there enough momentum for introducing a generally accepted reform and re-think in Europe?  Will Europe respond to recent challenges caused by irregular migration, a breakdown of law and order, the coronavirus outbreak and Brexit, by learning the right lessons from its failures in meeting these challenges, and be able to rebuild trust in the European project?

Of course these questions are always asked, regardless of the circumstances, when reforms or new investments are at stake. Nationalism, populism, xenophobia and recession are the most contagious and dangerous mix which currently jeopardise new European Projects. The only recipe against these is to convince the public of the advantages of a new project such as the Green Deal, and in so doing help to heal the rift caused by nationalist and populist trends.

In order to do this, Europe needs a visionary leadership which has to reinforce solidarity. This must be followed by all member states, national parliaments, industry sectors, civil society and last but not least EU institutions. The political leadership of the EU are responsible for the success or failure of the European Green Deal.

Therefore the upcoming German EU Presidency on the 1st of July 2020 will be a major indicator for the success or failure of the European Green Deal. The willingness of the national governments to set the footprint of a greenhouse gas emission-free future will be essential as the first step in beginning the transition process. If successful, legislative and policy implications on both European and national levels would have to follow.

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)

In order to make the European Green Deal work, the CAP has to undergo major reforms. European agricultural policy is already undergoing changes and major adaptations, driven by the economy (falling prices for agricultural products), related environmental issues such as the protection of forests and biodiversity, climate change concerns, consumer protection, the production of renewable energy, the changing character of rural communities, and other influences. The need to modernise the CAP has been recognised for many years. The recent changes to CAP from 2013 are now being considered for further reform and adaptation, and it is already understood that the CAP has to be adapted to new ambitions which address health, the environment and climate. It also has to respond adequately to super-national and European chains of food supply and agro-economy.

Furthermore, the CAP has to be placed into the context of other EU policies responding to challenges in a number of priority fields which are vital for European interests on a global level. As the EU Commission has stated, a modernised CAP must enhance its European added value, by reflecting a high level of environmental and climate ambitions and addressing citizens’ expectations for their health, safe food production, environment, biodiversity and climate. Clearly, and coherent and yet comprehensive plan is needed to address these demanding requirements.

And yet, despite the aim of the CAP to help reduce the impact of climate change, agriculture remains the leading cause of deforestation and the loss of biodiversity, as well as being responsible for significant green house (GHG) emissions. The management of pastures and cropland, methane from livestock and manure, as well as chemicals being used for fertilising the soil, all contribute towards damaging our environment and climate.

Agreement on a new CAP programme (for the period 2020-27) and its budget had to be postponed due to disagreements among the EU member states and delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Instead transitional bridging funding for the period from 2020-23 is under discussion.

Is this an important warning to those promoting the provisions of the Green New Deal and environmentally compatible reforms of the CAP?

Can European agriculture commit itself to significant contributions to the UN 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals, and make Europe a no GHG emission space?

Is Europe still a serious player or a leader in fulfilling the commitments of the Paris Agreement, transforming its agricultural sector into a sustainable bio-economy with reduced GHG emissions?

Changes in farm practices and the use of new technologies for biomass production, soil preservation, carbon storing and waste management, as well as the reduction in fossil-fuel using machines and vehicles, require time, re-training and new knowledge, amongst other things. Simultaneously new types of subsidies, state and private investments are required to support these changes.

Are the European institutions and EU member states ready and willing to invest in a long-term, complex and costly reform at this stage?

We all know that agriculture, including that in Europe, is vulnerable to climate change. At the same time agriculture is one of the main polluters and GHG emitters. The EU member states are now in the driving seat for establishing parameters for a major reform of the CAP, as well as striking the balance between the economic output of traditional agriculture and the need for agriculture that is clean and environmentally friendly.

Deforestation and the Timber Trade

While the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU makes no reference to specific provisions for an EU forest policy, the EU has a long history of contributing through its policies to implementing sustainable forest management and to member states’ decisions on forests.

Important developments include the Europe 2020 Strategy for Growth and Jobs, the Resource Efficiency Roadmap, the Rural Development Policy, Industrial Policy, the EU Climate and Energy Package with its 2020 targets, the Plant Health and Reproductive Materials Strategy and the Biodiversity and Bioeconomy Strategies.

Forests in the European Union cover over 180 million hectares of land, about 43% of its total territory. They are a crucial source of biodiversity. At the same time they are a major source of wood and the related timber and sawmill industries. These and other forest-based industries play an important role in the economy. Industries which manufacture pulp, paper and other fibre-based products, as well as the printing industry, the bio-energy industry and the furniture industry (including other material providers such as metal, rubber, leather and bamboo), incorporate 420,000 enterprises and a total turnover of over 520 billion euros (around 18% of the bio-economy). Around 3.5 million workers and 143 billion euros each year show the added value to the EU economy. Any new policy in Europe which seeks to reform the forest industry has to take into account the strategic value for the EU economy and labour market of these existing enterprises.

The CAP plays the central funding role of helping to maintain the biodiversity and protection of the forests, whilst developing the bio-economy and supporting the woodworking industry. The coordination of the complex approaches towards the forests in Europe is undertaken by the EU Forest Strategy.

The EU Forest Strategy 2014-20 was developed to provide a framework for policy guidance, supporting EU member states towards competitive industrial output and at the same time maintaining the biodiversity, bioeconomy, afforestation and sustainable forestry management to mitigate climate change. The post 2020 Forest Strategy is still under discussion.

Between 1990 and 2016, approximately 30 million hectares of forests have disappeared. Already in 2020 approximately 10,000 hectares of forest have been removed through logging or burning. Deforestation and tree felling are happening due to urbanisation, mining, fires, logging and agricultural activities. According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation, between 2010 and 2015 an estimated 7.6 million hectares of forest have been lost and 4.3 million hectares have been gained annually, resulting in a net annual decrease in forest area of 3.3 million hectares worldwide.

The forest sector in EU is exposed to unprecedented pressures arising from climate change and the growing demands of society for natural resources. This places enormous pressure on the health and resilience of forest ecosystems and adversely affects biodiversity and human well-being, as well as leading to an increase in GHG emissions.

Is the Commission’s Green Deal Communication, advocating EU action against deforestation and forest degradation, likely to bring more tangible results in stopping massive deforestation and promoting restoration of the forests, than the Forest Strategy, the CAP and many other binding and less binding frameworks of the European Commission?

The EU has created another body to discuss progress and exchanges of information in relation to the timber industry, as well as penalties for not complying with relevant provisions protecting forests and biodiversity. An expert group recruited from EU member states on the Timber Regulation (EUTR) should help the Commission to implement in a uniform way the provisions of the EUTR and the guiding principles of the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) action plan.

Yet experts are asking if, instead of yet another new body being created, it would be wise to entrust at least most of this work to the EU Environment Agency? Or could  an internal consultation mechanism be set up, including Eurojust, Europol and Olaf, cooperating with the EU Environment Agency, tracing down timber mafia and enterprises involved in illegal or semi-legal logging in Europe?

Would an extended mandate given to the European Environmental Agency to control, monitor and enforce the provisions of the Green Deal in Europe, in cooperation with other relevant EU agencies, be the best way forward?

Is this another sign of weakening EU institutions, unable to control and monitor the implementation of their own polices and principles by the EU member states? Would it not be of interest to European policy makers to find new ways to involve the vast knowledge, experience and engagement of approximately 300 national and international organisations and NGOs already active in Europe protecting forests, biodiversity and combating illegal deforestation?

And what has to be done in the short and long term to stop the deforestation and improve the monitoring of illegal and semi-legal logging?

The Way Ahead and the EU Strategy Towards Clean Hydrogen Energy

In November 2019 the Vice President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, presented the way ahead for the European Clean and Circular Economy, in the context of GHG emission free energy production. The European Green Deal was at the core of his presentation. Renewable energy from sources including hydrogen, as well as fuel cells to store electricity, are identified as essential for the implementation and success of the Green Deal initiative.

Hydrogen, when produced using green energy such as solar or wind, can power vehicles, homes and industry without GHG emissions. Yet despite its promise there has been no visible ramping up of production. Perceived issues around safety and cost have perhaps led to delays. In theory Europe could repurpose the already existing infrastructure for natural gas, and the cost of producing hydrogen has been steadily falling over the last twenty years. Further policies from the EU would help to scale up production and further reduce costs.

In order to proceed in the implementation of the provisions of the Green Deal initiative, further steps are being undertaken between an alliance of industries and policy makers to identify appropriate technologies, smart grids and regulatory mechanisms. It is evident that there is an urgent need to develop an overall strategy and plan of action on the productive, transport, application and storage of hydrogen energy.

The impact of the use of hydrogen energy in all sectors of industry and daily life will be equal to an industrial revolution. The Green Deal initiative of the EU Commission could trigger the beginning of a major overhaul of European industrial, environmental and social fabric as Europe changes to producing, storing and using hydrogen.

Already, China is beginning to build the largest production site of clean (solar based) hydrogen energy, expected to be functional by 2021.

It is the hope of experts and think tanks in Europe that the upcoming German EU Presidency, as of the 1st of July 2020, will propose a plan for the implementation of measures leading to a wide use of hydrogen and of course cooperating with industries and countries which already have clear strategies to this effect (Portugal, Netherlands, France, Sweden, UK, Australia, Japan, South Korea, etc.).

Further policy support by the European Parliament drafting a European Directive on hydrogen policy and its implementation, encompassing all relevant segments of industries and public life, is of vital importance.

However, what needs to be done in order to initiate such a major reform and re-think of industrial, commercial and investment policies in Europe and to arrive at GHG emission free energy production?

Furthermore, what are the cost estimates for financing a rapid and sustainable transition for EU industries, including agriculture, into an environmentally friendly, GHG emission free and economically competitive industry?

The Commission has already set out a clear vision of how to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. This vision should form the basis for the long-term strategy that the EU will submit to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in early 2020. In order to set out clear conditions for a fair and effective transition, as well as to provide predictability for investors whilst making such that the transition is irreversible, the Commission proposed the first European ‘Climate Law’ in March 2020, enshrining the 2050 climate-neutrality objective into legislation. The Climate Law also ensures that all EU policies contribute to the climate neutrality objective and that all sectors play their part.

The EU has already started to modernise and transform the economy with the aim of climate neutrality. Between 1990 and 2018 it reduced GHG emission by 23% while the economy grew by 61%. However, current policies are only projected to reduce GHG emissions by 60% by 2050, and clearly much remains to be done.

Taking into account that environmental and climate issues such as deforestation and GHG emissions are of a transnational, global and multilateral nature, far from being solved by individual national governments alone, the need to enact a common European legal and normative framework is a matter of urgency and necessity.

Is Europe ready for an industrial transition of this scale?