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Looking ahead of 2020: The Green Deal agenda post Covid-19

Although the European economy has been dealt a severe blow by Covid-19 and the ensuing national lockdowns, the European Commission continues its ambitious environmental agenda known as the Green Deal. While this agenda was primarily focused on sustainability, the recently published Commission communication regarding its biodiversity strategy explicitly makes a link with the coronavirus and other global disasters by stating that the biodiversity programme “aims to build our societies’ resilience to future threats such as climate change impacts, forest fires, food insecurity or disease outbreaks, including by protecting wildlife and fighting wildlife trade”.

Allocating the amount of at least €20 billion a year to restore the EU’s ecosystems by 2030, it has become clear to the Commission that merely reducing CO2 emissions will not suffice to meet the objective of keeping the increase of the global temperature below 1,5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. Protecting and restoring ecosystems can in fact be one of the most effective ways of securing the climate change goals. Organisations such as Rewilding Europe have stated that specific types of ecosystems can reduce emissions to up to 37%.

Although the Green Deal includes proposals to plant 3 billion additional trees in the next decade, in order to stimulate the absorption of CO2, only 2,5% of all climate funds currently go to these kind of “natural solutions”. It appears that these cheap and easy to implement natural solutions have been overlooked due to certain industries’ lobby to invest in technological solutions. Europe’s ageing populations, often considered a problem in respect of Europe’s global competitiveness, may now be looked at in a positive light because the depopulation of rural areas opens up possibilities for repurposing them as ecosystems.

Environmental organisations such as The Nature Conservancy has welcomed the new plans but have criticized the lack of clear implementation guidelines and an enabling regulatory framework. The Commission has recognized that past biodiversity strategies indeed suffered from these flaws, and also notes that its biodiversity agenda should be assessed in tandem with its recent Farm to Fork programme. Noting that “the manufacturing, processing, retailing, packaging and transportation of food make a major contribution to air, soil and water pollution and GHG emissions, and has a profound impact on biodiversity”, the Commission additionally sees the transition to sustainable food systems as a huge economic opportunity as well as a chance to change people’s diets.

Covid-19 may indeed be the trigger to push societies to a more sustainable and healthy lifestyle. Not only has obesity been shown to be a serious risk factor among Covid patients, the Commission also notes that with 20% of the food that is produced being wasted, this needs to be reversed as the challenge of food insecurity and affordability risks growing during the economic downturn that lies ahead of us.

Edited by: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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