Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

Green Deal for Environment and Climate

Green Deal for Environment and Climate

Thursday, 14 May, 2020 - 14:30
Najib Saab
Secretary-General of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) and editor-in-chief of Environment & Development magazine

The eleventh "Petersberg Climate Dialogue" was an opportunity for Europe to renew its commitment to the Green Deal, an ambitious program which aims at accomplishing a transformation to an environmentally friendly economy. In addition to the content of the discussions, the timing of the event sent an exceptional message. For despite unprecedented health and economic challenges, prominent leaders created a space to discuss environmental protection as a catalyst to economic and social stability.

The Green Deal, launched by the European Union at the end of 2019, is the world's first comprehensive official regional plan to achieve sustainable development. The first stage extends for ten years, at a cost of 100 billion Euros annually, to finance activities and programs designed to reduce carbon emissions by half by 2030. The second stage aims to reach a zero-carbon economy by 2050.

The European Commission considered climate change and environmental degradation as threats to Europe and the world. This challenge requires a new growth strategy, which transforms Europe into an economy that relies on efficient use of resources to enhance its competitiveness. The Green Deal was thus designed as a road map to a balanced and stable economy, based on transforming environmental and climate challenges into opportunities rather than treating them as obstacles. This requires policy changes and the involvement of all sectors in the process of change. But realizing the set goals requires enforceable laws that transform political commitments into legal obligations, which in turn attract the right investments.

Appropriate laws can stimulate investment in environmentally friendly technologies, support industrial innovation, develop cleaner and cheaper means of public and private transport, and accelerate the shift to clean energy and energy-efficient buildings. The European plan allocates financial and technical support to individuals, businesses and local authorities to help them transform to a green economy. Ultimately, the Green Deal seeks to establish a circular economy based on efficient use of resources, the restoration of biological diversity and reducing pollution.

When the European plan was announced a few months ago, some environmental groups considered that it fell short of achieving its own ambitious goals. They compared the trillion Euros allocated for it over ten years to the 1.6 trillion Euros paid by European governments to rescue failing banks between 2009 and 2013, concluding that the amount allocated to climate is insignificant. But such a comparison is invalid, because the governments have acquired stakes in the banks in return for their rescue funds, besides that public contribution to financing the Green Deal will attract much more from the private sector. Laws will definitely encourage investors to place their money in sustainable projects and programs that offer incentives and guarantees.

Experience has shown that it is the laws that drive markets. Tax incentives for electric cars and the announcement by some European cities that cars powered by fuel will be prohibited within 10-20 years, amplified the sales of electric cars in countries such as the Netherlands and Norway. Preventing the use of gas for heating in new houses opened the market to heat pumps working on heat exchange. Lifting subsidies on fuel and electricity attracted investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy sectors. With all of these, millions of jobs were created.

The goals of the European Green Deal might not be novel. But renewing commitment to them, at this particular time, is a powerful message announcing that policymakers are learning lessons and benefiting from the mistakes of the past to plan a sustainable future. The significance of the European reaffirmation is that it was launched at a global conference on climate change, hosted by Germany jointly with Britain, the current president of the postponed climate summit, which was scheduled in Glasgow later this year. The two countries are Europe’s largest economically. Germany launched the Petersberg Climate Dialogue in 2010, after the climate summit in Copenhagen, with the aim of continuing discussions to accelerate the agreement on a joint global plan that addresses climate change and mobilizes support to strengthen and activate the decisions of international climate conferences.

This year’s meeting took place online for two days, with the participation of 30 ministers and dozens of heads of international and regional organizations. Among the participants was the Emirati Minister of Climate Change and Environment, Dr. Thani Al-Zayoudi.

The mere fact that the dialogue took place, and the scale of participation, despite a global state of quarantine, demonstrated that climate change remains on the agenda. The message of the assembled leaders was clear: postponing the climate summit this year does not mean postponing work to achieve its goals. It was also explicitly clear that financial support to save the economy from collapse should not go to polluting industries.

Today everyone is calling for a return to "normalcy." But this should not necessarily mean a return to the brutal production and consumption patterns that created disasters and brought the world to the brink of collapse. The message of the Petersberg dialogue was to invest in an economy that respects sustainability of natural resources and distributes wealth fairly to all, while not stealing the right of future generations under the cover of saving the economy. Days after the meeting, France gave the first practical sign in this direction, when it imposed on Air France, in exchange for the billions the government pledged to save it from bankruptcy, to cancel all internal flights that can be replaced by train journeys of less than 2.5 hours, in order to reduce emissions. The British government also announced that its support for any company would be conditional on reducing its contribution to climate change.

Old practices were abnormal, and it is high time for a radical change.

Other opinion articles

Editor Picks