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Pairing 'Green Deal' With 'Just Recovery' in EU, Groups Embrace Tackling COVID-19 and Climate Emergency in Tandem

"The countries that have signed this letter are absolutely right to say that the E.U. should use the Green Deal as a starting point for their economic recovery efforts."

Young protesters attend the Global Climate Strike in London on March 15, 2019.

Young protesters attend the Global Climate Strike in London on March 15, 2019. (Photo: Garry Knight/Flickr/cc)

The global climate advocacy group 350.org on Friday welcomed a new demand from 11 member nations of the European Union to use the continent's Green Deal policy guidelines as a framework for economic recovery from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

"We have a choice to make now: do we try to tackle one crisis while ignoring another, or do we decide to build back better by tackling the two together, and create a fairer, more prosperous, and sustainable future for us all?"
—Nick Bryer, 350.org Europe

The call for making the European Green Deal "central to a resilient recovery after COVID-19" came Thursday in an open letter signed by the environment and climate ministers from Austria, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden. France signed on Friday.

"The countries that have signed this letter are absolutely right to say that the E.U. should use the Green Deal as a starting point for their economic recovery efforts," Nick Bryer, a senior campaigner at 350.org Europe, said in a statement.

"The coronavirus pandemic is having a devastating impact on people's livelihoods across Europe and around the world," he added, "and it is right that E.U. governments and institutions are taking extraordinary measures to minimize this."

The European Green Deal was introduced in December by Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, the E.U.'s executive arm. Some advocacy groups have charged that the proposal—which came less than two weeks after the European Parliament declared a climate emergency—isn't adequately ambitious.

Despite persistent critiques of the continent's Green Deal, the ministers' new letter was embraced by Oil Change International in a tweet Friday:

The letter noted that after meeting about the coronavirus outbreak by video in March, E.U. leaders ordered (pdf) the European Commission to start developing a comprehensive recovery plan featuring "the measures necessary to get back to a normal functioning of our societies and economies and to sustainable growth, integrating inter alia the green transition and the digital transformation, and drawing all lessons from the crisis."

E.U. leaders' mention of the green transition last month was welcomed by Ester Asin, director of the WWF's European Policy Office, who told Euractiv that "a truly ambitious, people-centered European Green Deal must be part of the response and will leave Europe better equipped to tackle the ongoing climate and biodiversity emergencies."

The ministers concurred in their open letter Thursday, declaring that "the Green Deal provides us with a roadmap to make the right choices in responding to the economic crisis while transforming Europe into a sustainable and climate neutral economy."

The letter acknowledged the "tremendous human tragedy and a historical economic setback" caused by the pandemic and argued that "the lesson from the COVID-19 crisis is that early action is essential. Therefore, we need to maintain ambition in order to mitigate the risks and costs of inaction from climate change and biodiversity losses."

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"We should withstand the temptations of short-term solutions in response to the present [coronavirus] crisis that risk locking the E.U. in a fossil fuel economy for decades to come," the letter read. "Instead, we must remain resolved to increase the E.U.'s 2030 target before the end of this year adhering to the timetable of the Paris agreement despite the postponement of COP26, and inspire other global players to raise their ambition as well."

"The Green Deal provides us with a roadmap to make the right choices in responding to the economic crisis while transforming Europe into a sustainable and climate neutral economy."
—11 European ministers

As Common Dreams reported in March, environmental advocates worldwide have responded to the COVID-19 outbreak by pushing policymakers to learn from the public health crisis as pursue a global Green New Deal in an effort to both promote economic recovery and address the climate emergency.

"After the financial crash in 2008, the E.U. saved the banks, and ordinary citizens paid the price with a decade of austerity," 350.org's Bryer said Friday. "As another recession looms, mega-rich polluting corporations, like oil and gas companies, are already trying to seize the moment to secure themselves financial support."

"But we are also in the midst of a climate crisis," he added, "and we have a choice to make now: do we try to tackle one crisis while ignoring another, or do we decide to build back better by tackling the two together, and create a fairer, more prosperous, and sustainable future for us all?"

350.org has joined with hundreds of groups fighting for a "just recovery" to the virus outbreak and emphasizing the importance of considering "the interrelated crises of wealth inequality, racism, and ecological decline—notably the climate crisis—which were in place long before COVID-19, and now risk being intensified."

Specifically, the organizations assert that responses to the pandemic at all levels must uphold the following principles:

  • Put people's health first, no exceptions: Resource health services everywhere; ensure access for all.
  • Provide economic relief directly to the people: Focus on people and workers—particularly those marginalized in existing systems—our short-term needs and long-term conditions.
  • Help workers and communities, not corporate executives: Assistance directed at specific industries must be channeled to communities and workers, not shareholders or corporate executives, and never to corporations that don’t commit to tackling the climate crisis.
  • Create resilience for future crises: We must create millions of decent jobs that will help power a just recovery and transition for workers and communities to the zero-carbon future we need.
  • Build solidarity and community across borders—don't empower authoritarians: Transfer technology and finance to lower-income countries and communities to allow them to respond using these principles and share solutions across borders and communities. Do not use the crisis as an excuse to trample on human rights, civil liberties, and democracy.

As of press time Friday, there were more than 1.677 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and over 101,000 related deaths worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University's tracker. The E.U. members hardest hit by the public health crisis include Spain, Italy, France, and Germany.

While France endorsed the letter after facing criticism for not being an orignial signatory, Germany has not yet caved to such pressure.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel "was once hailed as a climate champion, but her crown is long lost and gathering dust," Sebastian Bock, a senior campaigner with 350.org in Germany, said Friday. "Germany's absence from this important list of European signatories shows, yet again, that all Merkel has left to offer is words without substance."

"In January the chancellor weakened her government's own commitments on a domestic coal phase-out," added Bock. "Now, during this unprecedented moment in time that calls for solidarity and international cooperation, the German government is undermining E.U. efforts to simultaneously rejuvenate our economies to support the people and also tackle the climate crisis."

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