Report – CEIPA Round Table – The EU Green Deal: Our Engine For Recovery – Europe On The Path Towards A Greenhouse Gas Free Society

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

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

CEIPA’s report and conclusions from the event are below.

CEIPA Report and Conclusions – The European Green Industry: Is There Support for the Objectives of the European Green Deal?

The European Industrial Strategy is firmly grounded in the objectives of the European Green Deal. The main goal is for a competitive industry to help Europe become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050.

The Strategy will include specific measures to accompany industries’ green transition. It will support breakthrough technologies and propose a dedicated Strategy for a sustainably built environment. A new Circular Economy Action Plan to promote sustainability and resource productivity will follow the Industrial Strategy. New ways of working with stakeholders in business areas that support the green transition will ensure comprehensive action, such as with the launch of a Clean Hydrogen Alliance. The Strategy underlines the importance of empowering consumers to play an active role in the Circular Economy. It will ensure that no one is left behind and that there is a just transition for all.

The European Union is leading the way in the implementation of the Paris agreement. Should differences in ambition around the world create a significant risk of carbon leakage, the Commission will propose a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism. It will also use its existing instruments to steer and accelerate the transition of industry towards cleaner production processes, while ensuring the mechanisms to tackle carbon leakage are not duplicated.

How can the new industrial policy benefit European businesses and society?

How will the Commission foster key technologies? Will State aid always be necessary?

According to the European Commission, Industrial sectors will be incentivised to define their own road maps for climate neutrality or digital leadership, enabled by high quality research and skills. A number of sectors have already taken this approach since the launch of the European Green Deal. A lot can and should be done by market players with private financing. In the co-design and entrepreneurial spirit of this Strategy, this should be supported through cooperation between the public and private sector to help industry develop the technologies to meet their goals, as has been successfully in industrial alliances.

Alliances have already delivered benefits in the areas of batteries, plastics and microelectronics. Building on this success, the Commission will shortly propose to launch a new European Clean Hydrogen Alliance bringing investors together with governmental, institutional and industrial partners. The Alliance will build on existing work to identify technology needs, investment opportunities and regulatory barriers and enablers. Future potential candidates for alliances also include low-carbon industries, Industrial Clouds and Platforms and raw materials. EU industry is well placed to lead and makes the most of the green and digital transformation processes. The transformation offers many opportunities for businesses of all sizes to scale and prosper. Innovation will be the key to success.

Industry is highly important for communities and social cohesion. Maintaining a competitive and sustainable industry in Europe will provide quality jobs and make our social market economy more sustainable, provided the green hydrogen energy production will find its path to a wide range of users and customers market.

The green transformation of industry supported by the EU’s new Industrial Strategy, especially by the European Hydrogen Alliance, should in the opinion of experts gradually reduce the environmental footprint of our industrial activities and empower industry to provide effective solutions for the societal and employment challenges of the future. The core if this undertaking is the interplay and synergy between industry, national, regional and local authorities as well as civil society. The question will remain, whether this plan will be feasible to create a synergy between various parts of the industry sector and the society.

The CEIPA event on the 9th of June 2020 has shed additional light on the state of play of the European Green Deal. Over eighty participants from different countries representing governments, private sector, international and European institutions, academia, NGOs, press within and outside of the EU have attended the discussions led by the highly knowledgeable panellists.

The core of the discussions focused on policies furthering innovation and transformation of traditional carbon industries and agriculture towards a clean decarbonised economy, boosting biodiversity and re-and- afforestation as well as measures to reduce pollution.

Being aware that the Green Deal initiative represents in itself a highly ambitious and multifaceted transformation process requiring the full support of the public opinion, leading industries and policymakers, CEIPA has provided a platform for a variety of views and opinions addressing the pillars of this transformation process. Although essential that the European Commission and the EU Parliament take a lead role in designing the legal framework of this process, the discussion showed that this will be far from enough to make this ambitious process a success.

Fresh and sustainable investments from financial institutions and the private sector with a robust and univocal support by EU governments are required for the next three decades in order to make Europe (a masterpiece and a flagship) a continent of climate neutrality and greenhouse gas emission free by 2050.

Although many encouraging projects and initiatives are on the way to developing technologies facilitating the use of green renewable energy, the fossil energy industry remains in the lead and has to be invited to join the new efforts within the scope of the Green Deal. The transition from fossil to green carbon neutral energy production will take time and considerable investment for remodelling the current energy and related sectors. At the same time the new environmentally compatible green industries will have to arrive at cost-effective energy production.

National governments in Europe have developed impressively ambitious goals to abolish fossil fuels in the large sectors of industry of core interest to the public, such as the heating and mobility sectors. The European Investment Bank is providing major investments to provide funds to produce, store green and renewable energy, as well as to use it to power our vehicles.

Initiatives such as those undertaken by TOYOTA motors on a global level towards gradual decarbonisation and enhancement of environmentally compatible transport (persons and goods), by investing and developing engines propelled by green hydrogen, can trigger the turning point for the future green transport in Europe and worldwide. To pave the way for the wide use of green hydrogen, solar and wind energies, Europe will be compelled to think beyond the EU boundaries and create conducive conditions for a global, rather than regional synergies between industries, research and markets.

Climate and environmental issues are inherently of global nature. The examples of some advanced industrial countries in Europe show clearly that wind and solar energy production will not be sufficient to provide the renewable energy for their countries as it stands currently. In European countries such as Germany, Denmark and others over 40% of the electricity consumption already comes from renewable energy, although wind and solar represent below 10% of the overall energy used. This shows the scale of the challenges ahead.

Thus, Europe can play a lead role provided it shows its determination and maturity in being a trustful and open minded broker for all international/multinational initiatives and partners. It can do this by accepting and supporting new norms and standards for research, investment and commerce devoted to renewable green and environmentally friendly technologies affecting the energy, agriculture, forestry, transport, textile, plastic/packaging, construction and consumer protection sectors. In any case, the energy providers in Europe will face the challenge of providing a continuous and secure supply of affordable decarbonised energy to foster economic growth by the citizens of Europe.

The transition towards a carbon-neutral economy will of course have some impact on social and labour structures in Europe. The Green Deal Initiative, with its projected 1 trillion euros of public and private investment potential, the EU post COVID 19 recovery plan with its 750 billion euros, as well as the German national recovery plan of 50 billion euros, are just a few uniquely important initiatives making innovation and transformation towards a decarbonised and Circular Economy and digital society compatible with social and labour market issues.

After all, the European Commission with its efforts for revision of the Energy Taxation Directive and the national  governments in Europe are the masters of their fiscal policies and taxation of carbon emission, thus they are able to reallocate financial means for re-training of the labour force and construct effective programmes preventing social marginalisation and poverty. The environmentally friendly technologies may soon offer new revenues and employment opportunities and subsequently make the Green Deal initiative competitive, but also an example for economic and social inclusion, just in time to help face the challenges of a looming recession. In the key solar market alone, experts project at least the creation of half a million new job within the next ten years.

The Green Deal, The Common Agricultural Policy, Consumer Protection and Internal Markets

The European Green Deal, as designed by the European Commission, presents itself as a fundamental new Framework for EU policies in a number of sectors. One of the core policy sectors most affected by the Green Deal is the CAP – the European Common Agricultural Policy. This policy and its funding affect the future of the European farmers as well as the environment and climate concerns. The Commission proposal for the multiannual financial framework (MFF) 2021-2027 includes €365 billion for the CAP. This corresponds to an average share of 28.5% of the overall EU budget for the period 2021-2027. Out of this amount for the CAP, €265.2 billion is for direct payments, €20 billion for market support measures (EAGF) and €78.8 billion is for rural development (EAFRD). The future CAP will focus on nine general objectives, while digitalisation will remain an important issue in all the fields mentioned below:

1) Support viable farm income and resilience across the EU territory to enhance food security;
2) Enhance market orientation and increase competitiveness including greater focus on research, technology and digitalisation;
3) Improve farmers’ position in the value chain;
4) Contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well as sustainable energy;
5) Foster sustainable development and efficient management of natural resources such as water, soil and air;
6) Contribute to the protection of biodiversity, enhance ecosystem services and preserve habitats and landscapes;
7) Attract young farmers and facilitate business development in rural areas;
8) Promote employment, growth, social inclusion and local development in rural areas, including bio-economy and sustainable forestry;
9) Improve the response of EU agriculture to societal demands on food and health, including safe, nutritious and sustainable food, as well as animal welfare.

An additional €10 billion will be available through the EU’s Horizon Europe research programme to support specific research and innovation in food, agriculture, rural development and the bio-economy. The provisions of the Green Deal initiative postulate, though rather vaguely, a major reform of the CAP. The Green Deal initiative claims that approximately 40% of the future funding allocated from the CAP will be for action on the climate. This would further imply that the so-called Farm to Fork Strategy on sustainable food would be a core future priority for the CAP and its implementation.

The participants deeply regretted that the new document available for discussion, which describes in detail the CAP 2021-2027, avoided explicit commitments and engagement to implement the provisions of the Green Deal; even more disappointing is the fact that the CAP document does not refer to any concrete commitments to reach the targets for carbon neutrality for 2030 and 2050. This makes the new environmental and climate policy initiatives of the European Commission seem unlikely to succeed.

The discussion during the CEIPA event has underlined the necessity for the CAP reform to align with the provisions of the Green Deal, especially when addressing the need for improved land management, sustainability and furthering public goods. This would translate concretely into some conditionality for enhancement of the subsidies and direct payments into agroforestry and organic farming, which is essential for Circular Economy rural development. Above all, in following the spirit and the provisions of the Green Deal, the CAP would be obliged to adopt new guidelines focusing on the reduction of the greenhouse gas emissions and environmentally non compatible fertilisers and pesticides, as well as introducing rather sweeping changes in ecological animal husbandry.

The European ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy has been extensively discussed during the CEIPA event and it was felt that this strategy should be fully integrated into the CAP by way of setting benchmarks for a fair, healthy and environmentally compatible production, storage and distribution of food. The production of high-quality food must be maintained, whilst ensuring appropriate living standards of the farmers and maintaining the highest levels of animal welfare.

Food production shall follow the principles of the mitigation of climate change, the maintaining of biodiversity and the prevention of further land degradation. That said, farmers should be given appropriate tools in their hands to engage in local and regional competitive agri-food supply chains, while considerably reducing the use of harmful pesticides attributing to land degradation.

The EU governments and the EC should set regulatory measures on lowering prices for agricultural products and goods traded by commercial chains and discounters. Governments and legislators should make it possible to combat unfair trading practices and at the same time introduce incentives for high quality food production. Having high quality food production can go hand in hand with maintaining biodiversity and mitigating climate change and should cement a fair, sustainable, healthy, competitive and environmentally compatible food production and distribution sector.

It is still a fact that an estimated 20% of the total food produced is lost or wasted in the EU. Promoting new incentive schemes for organic farming and monitoring the process of Circular Economy in the agro-economy should remain a priority for the EC and the EP. Significant resources are being wasted through irresponsible industrial action and policy. Therefore, CEIPA welcomes the initiative of the EC to combat the food waste reduction, as a key action under the forthcoming EU Farm-to-Fork Strategy, taking into account all aspects of the food value chain. This would imply the review of the relevant provisions of the Directive 2008/98/EC and setting of new measures to increase the sustainability of organic farming, healthy and sustainable food production and distribution.

The practicalities of monitoring the use of CAP subsidies and their impact on the environment by national authorities and local and regional farms has been questioned during the CEIPA event. It appears that the current draft of the CAP under discussion in the European parliament is lacking somewhat in the regulatory touch of the European Commission. Critical experts point out that the EC has somewhat lost its grip over the implementation of the CAP, by transferring the overall competence for the distribution of funds, monitoring of the projects funded by the CAP and financial reporting to the national authorities. According to the experts and European NGOs consulting CEIPA, the orientation and the overall strategy of the CAP from 2021 to 2027 should be fully re-discussed in the light of the provisions of the Green Deal initiative. The European Commission, according to numerous experts, Europe wide, is expected to take a decisive stance towards substantially adapting the current wording of the CAP to make it compatible with the ambitious European climate, environmental and carbon free policies.

To this effect a continual flow of suggestions, amendments, recommendations and requests have been broached by independent experts, hoping to be heard by the European Parliament and the European Commission. Independent experts, NGOs, academia, the public opinion, national, regional and international environmental organisations are eagerly expecting the European Commission to present its new and amended monitoring system of national plans and measures, in which it will accelerate the transition to a Circular Economy in agriculture so that it can become carbon free and climate neutral in the foreseeable future. It is said that an efficient monitoring system in Europe would have to rely heavily and substantially on the knowledge of specialised NGOs, regional and international organisations active in this field in Europe and worldwide.

European Forests: The Core Part of the European Green Deal 

Forests in Europe are the most important tool we have in the struggle to preserve biodiversity, natural habitats and wildlife, as well as in the fight to mitigate climate change. Therefore the provisions of the new green architecture laid down in the Green Deal have to set checks and balances for the protection of the forests from natural hazards such as droughts, heatwaves, floods, diseases, erosion and forest fires. Irresponsible forest management, illegal and illicit timber logging and trade should be subject to legal and judicial proceedings. The forests in Europe require a new chance for growth, competent maintenance and sustainable management, all of which will benefit Europe’s people, economy and. These principles should guide the future EU Forest Strategy in all its aspects. The European Green Deal should become a platform for a transparent and open multi-stakeholder approach in order to secure the best conditions for sustainable growth and maintenance of the forest.

Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) must allow a variety of environmentally and climate compatible practices, which safeguard the biodiversity and natural habitats, by ensuring continual ecosystem service. The Green Deal should however, according to experts, prevent further overburdening of private owners with administrative procedures and conditions negatively affecting the management and maintenance of forests.

It remains important for the post 2020 Forest Strategy and the EU Biodiversity Strategy up to 2030, that all the stakeholders including the forest owners, the timber and cork industry and the civic initiatives protecting the ecosystems, are being regularly consulted and made part of the balanced decision making process which have binding provisions for European and national authorities.

It has been reiterated that a sustainable and environmentally compatible forest management is essential for reaching EU climate objectives as it contributes to the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, the creation of job opportunities and economic growth, as well as to the enhancement of biodiversity and natural habitats.

The CEIPA event has shed some light on the illicit, illegal and semi-legal timber logging trade in Europe.

The intention of the EC to review the sustainability of bioenergy, especially thoroughly reviewing the future use of forest biomass for energy production, has been welcomed. The change of attitudes of the European Commission towards producing bioenergy out of woody biomass will hopefully lead to a revised strategy, redefining the future biomass related policies.

The old-growth forests with their high grade wood are unmistakably stabilising the ecosystems and largely removing carbon from the atmosphere. Therefore the production of biomass from such forests should be prohibited. These high-quality forests in Europe are the most valuable for climate mitigation and biodiversity and should be protected from further destruction and economic exploitation. Needless to say, the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030 which is currently under discussion should take fully into account the numerous proposals and interventions launched by scientists, NGOs and other stakeholders, which aim to prevent further irreparable damage being inflicted upon European forests through the indiscriminate production of biomass.

The CEIPA event welcomed many noteworthy efforts to undercut abusive practices in some of the European member states promoting timber logging in old-growth forests. Such practices only accelerate the degradation of biodiversity, natural habitats and wildlife and ultimately worsen climate change. It was felt that regulations, safeguards and policies to protect forests and environmentally compatible forestry in Europe should be strengthened, revitalised and adapted to the provisions of the Green Deal as well as to the objectives set by the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement.

Illicit, illegal and semi-legal timber logging and trade are detrimental to the European economy, the environment and social stability. Deforestation, degradation and the destruction of healthy forests lead eventually to adverse effects on climate, biodiversity and natural habitat. Wilful and intentional destruction of forests and negligent forest management may, as witnessed in various parts of the world, lead to serious conflicts, civil strife and long term litigation between the involved parties overburdening legal systems and public welfare, cementing corruption as well as enhancing public disorder and organised crime networks.

While the positive aspects of EU policies safeguarding Europe’s forests, natural habitat and biodiversity have been fully acknowledged, considerable concern has been voiced about the reports describing continual illicit, illegal and semi-legal logging and exploitation of old-growth forests with its high grade wood in Europe. Although the Renewable Energy Directive II introduces mandatory criteria for the production of forest biomass to be enshrined into national laws and enforcement systems, the reality seems to be different.

Evidently, neither national nor European and international legal frameworks and policies are so far completely effective in undercutting the illicit, illegal logging, commercial exploitation and trade of timber on domestic and international markets. According to research and reports by independent experts, NGOs and networks of investigative journalists in Europe, illegal logging and trade in timber under the connivance of national authorities has continued to take place up until the present day. It appears that due to a number of factors such as the lack of political will on the level of some EU member states, failed policies curtailing corruption, lack of EU binding legal instruments and effective monitoring, the illicit, illegal and/or semi-legal practices harming the forests in Europe may continue.

The available media and press reports have shed some light on malpractices taking place especially in the forest rich regions of the Carpathian mountains (Romania, Ukraine, Slovakia and Poland). It appears from these reports that harmful practices in areas of protected natural habitat have often occurred under the pretext of the production of “green” energy from biomass or falsely declaring old-growth forests with its high-grade wood as being affected by natural or man-made degradation and/or bark beetle.

Some wood working industries, due to the ever growing demand for pellets and also because of the available EU and state subsidies, are apparently exploiting healthy high grade timber for renewable gases, liquids and pellets produced from biomass, instead of by-products like bark, sawdust and wood chips of other industries such as sawmills and pulp mills. Unfortunately in the absence of consistent, harmonised and long-term EU wide binding regulations for the production of biomass, each state in the EU may develop its own rules and practices.

It was felt that the provisions of the European Union’s policy to fight illegal logging and trade (as defined by the provisions of the Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan, in particular by the FLEGT Regulation, the FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA), by the Timber Regulation as well as by the newly established voluntary green public procurement policies) are not sufficiently observed and implemented.

While the aforementioned developments in the EU legislation and policy making have of course had a positive impact, it has been noted that in the evaluation of the 11 years of implementation of the EU Action Plan on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT), the 2015 audit conducted by the European Court of Auditors, in spite of all positive and diplomatic formulations, there were a number of considerable shortcomings in the coordination and cooperation between the EU member states as well as a lack of monitoring of practices in a few individual EU member states. The spirit of the Green Deal initiative as well as the provisions of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement would postulate a new and binding approach towards the above legal frameworks and a rework of the Work Plan 2018-2022 for the implementation of the FLEGT Action Plan.

It remains the task of the European Commission to set up a well functioning enforcement and penal system combating illicit, illegal, semi-legal and harmful timber logging and commerce in Europe. It was felt that policies and new priorities for Europol, Eurojust, the newly created office of the European Prosecutor as well as the OLAF should be set to strictly follow the above legal frameworks and especially the provisions of the Green Deal. Whilst Interpol has set clear priorities and operative procedures to combat illegal timber logging worldwide, including in Europe, the European Agencies are far from being operative in this field. Interpol’s forestry crime teams have been effective for many years in disrupting criminal networks and the financial flows that facilitate forestry and environmental crime. Interpol operations to date have resulted in the seizure of more than 1 million cubic metres of illicit timber (worth in excess of USD 1.5 billion) across Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe. The European agencies could in the same way set up law enforcement and judicial procedures and teams to prevent and combat timber crime in the future; thus contributing effectively to the implementation of the provisions of the European Green Deal.