How green is the EU’s recovery deal?

Can the European Union cope with the climate and Covid-19 crises simultaneously? The extraordinary near-€2 trillion budget and pandemic recovery deal agreed on in July shows that EU’s leaders believe the corona pandemic can indeed be a catalyst for climate action.

For the past few years, EU leaders have made it their main policy priority to bring down carbon emissions and shift towards a clean, green, economy. The coronavirus crisis has had a cataclysmic effect on our lives, yet the EU insists that it not shake the plans to make the bloc climate neutral by 2050.

Revealing the power of natural events

Both of these crises are existential shocks for Europe. They are set to overhaul almost every aspect of our relationship with transport and mobility – although in very different ways. The pandemic has forced us to rethink shared transport, putting certain sectors – like airlines and carmakers – in deep jeopardy. The climate crisis is much more drawn out, but even more consequential, as the mechanics of motorised mobility have to be redesigned as a low carbon system.

Greta Thunberg

In March, when the coronavirus was sweeping across the continent, some argued that the economic hit would be so heavy that Europe would have to abandon its green ambitions. Others said it made the climate crisis feel closer, revealing the power of natural events to upturn the schemes of mice and men. The early days of the lockdown, when most people were confined to their homes, also gave us a taste of a world without traffic pollution or noise.

Climate Neutral by 2050

The EU’s historic recovery plan – agreed after five exhausting days of negotiations at a bruising Brussels summit – underwrites a €750 billion fund to help countries recover, tied with a new €1.074 trillion seven-year budget that already laid down unprecedented green programmes.

Around a third of the money will go to green projects. The leaders also agreed that even those parts of the overall package not specifically earmarked for climate spending must “do no harm” to the EU’s goal to become climate neutral by 2050.

For the European Commission, this has been a moment to tie green strings to funding. Officials see the huge public investment needed to create jobs, boost demand and get economies back on their feet as an opportunity to revolutionise Europe’s industry and speed up, rather than slow down, the green transition, replacing old and polluting infrastructure with a modern, clean and efficient ones across all sectors.

EU Leaders ready to go further than ever before

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says the massive sums on offer gives the EU “a strong leverage” to ensure countries make these plans green. “By using the European Green Deal as our compass, we can turn the crisis of this pandemic into an opportunity to rebuild our economies differently and make them more resilient,” she said.

Greta Thunberg, the world’s most celebrated climate activist, slammed the summit deal, saying it proved that politicians were still not treating climate change as an emergency. While the deal itself may not be enough to turn the tide – much, much more is needed from national governments and businesses – it at least shows that the EU has held on to its climate commitments despite the coronavirus challenge. Daunting though it may seem, Europe’s leaders have shown they ready to go further than they have ever gone before – and that keeps the green ambitions on track.