As the world grapples with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and starts to gradually prepare for dealing with its longer-term impacts, governments and societies should take moment to reflect on what we can learn from this crisis and use these lessons to build a better future.
With more than half of the global population locked-down, the first lesson learned is the deep interdependency between our countries and regions and the high exposure that we all have to unanticipated external shocks. With the virus spreading uncontrollably from continent to continent, it has been those governments that have accepted responsibility for the well-being of their citizens and come out with a clear plan that have weathered the test. The second lesson is that multilateralism and global solidarity work. Many governments have joined forces to set up coordination and information sharing mechanisms and mobilised assistance to the most affected and the particularly vulnerable, effectively saving lives and livelihoods all around the world. The third lesson has been the necessity to accept science and respond to it.
And this is where we come to climate change and environmental degradation. COVID-19 in 2020 is an exceptionally large- scale human tragedy, and similar outbreaks can be expected in the future, but science tells us that this is just a warning compared to the existential risks for our civilization associated with global warming and other planetary challenges in the years to come. There also exists increasing evidence that many new infectious disease outbreaks are increasingly triggered or accentuated by the impacts of global warming or by ecosystem degradation.
Healthy natural ecosystems are a prerequisite for continued prosperity. Unaddressed climate change – if the international community fails to bring the increasing greenhouse gas emissions down–and environmental degradation will lead to catastrophic consequences, including making large parts of our planet uninhabitable already in the coming decades. Similarly, the growing number of violent weather phenomena will continue to destroy crops, homes and infrastructures, trigger massive wildfires and induce mass migration. These are ingredients for a very unsettled world.
Global warming is harder to tackle than the COVID-19 pandemic. There will be no vaccine against climate change and its devastating impacts. Flattening the emissions curve will only be possible if we take bold and courageous climate action, together. The good news is, we can do it and we can – in fact, must– use the economic rebound from COVID-19 to accelerate the transition to a safer, more resilient future.
The choices we make today will define tomorrow’s future. Over the next two years, governments around the world will seek to spend around EUR 10 trillion borrowed from future generations. The massive investment needed to kick-start our economies must relieve the burden on their shoulders, not make it heavier. We need to get it right from the get-go. This is why the recovery plans should be designed as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to ‘build back better’ and invest in an economy of the 21st century, and not in the obsolete carbon economy of the past century.
Together with the EU Heads of State or Government, the European Commission has reconfirmed its commitment to a green, digital and resilient recovery and embedded it in its proposal for the EU’s recovery plan released at the end of May. Through our recovery plan called Next Generation EU and a revamped EU budget, every euro of investment will be made available to get Europe back on its feet, while accelerating the twin green and digital transitions and building a fairer and more resilient society. Moreover, the Commission has proposed for 25% of the EU budget for the next seven years to be spent on climate investments. Some areas where strong action can lead to big impacts are, for instance, the circular economy, ecosystem restoration, the built environment (renovation), mobility (electrification), and energy (renewables and clean hydrogen).
The EU will stick to its goal to be climate neutral by 2050 – and we challenge anyone to beat us to it so the whole of humanity wins.
In its biodiversity Strategy to 2030 the EU has also made major commitments on protecting and restoring EU’s ecosystems and is ready to lead efforts to agree an ambitious new global biodiversity framework for post-2020 at the upcoming COP15 on Biological Diversity.
Global solidarity, open and fair trade, rules-based order, and multilateralism are crucial to avoid lapsing into a fossil fuel and resource intensive recovery, which would put people and the planet irreversibly in peril. We urge all international partners, and in particular The Gambia and its citizens, to also put in place clear and robust low carbon policies and green recovery strategies. This will give our societies a sense of direction and purpose, and guide investors, businesses, workers and consumers towards sustainability.
The EU stands ready to engage with partners around the world on ways to direct investment to environmentally sustainable economic activities. We are available to share expertise, finance projects, explain our regulations and share our principles for sustainable finance. Working hard to find new ways to win this collective challenge and allow our children to enjoy a decent human life on a peaceful planet is not an idealistic or a naïve pursuit. It is about staying true to our values, listening to science, strengthening our economies, and building a better future. There simply is no realist alternative to green recovery.