“Restore Our Earth!” was the theme and rallying cry for this year’s Earth Day on 22 April. This is not something that could be achieved on a single day. Yet, Earth Day 2021 might signal a greater turning of the tide as the world enters the “Green Twenties.”
Europe–Africa relations are facing a double challenge – the COVID-19 pandemic puts social and economic systems under strain at a point when the consequences of the climate crisis are being increasingly felt on both continents. Within Africa and Europe, debates have started about recovery measures to address the pandemic’s short and medium-term socio-economic consequences. A key question in these debates is how to “build back better” and use the crisis to promote green transitions and move towards more sustainable development pathways.
“What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic. It affects us all.”
The EU intends to play a pioneering role in the future, armed with a “clear and coherent Arctic policy”. If this is to succeed, the EU will need to take the lessons learned from the pandemic into account because COVID-19 has exacerbated existing inequalities and challenges in the region, particularly in terms of infrastructure and healthcare.
Covid-19 brought a brief respite in the growth of carbon emissions. The challenge now is to achieve a long-term decrease. We must seize the moment to turn the coronavirus crisis into the green opportunity the world needs most.
The need for a greener recovery geared towards meeting environmental targets and climate neutrality, a subject of intense debate since the beginning of the crisis, is at the heart of the European recovery plan announced this week. The acceleration of the Green Deal is presented as one of the two pillars that should guide the European economic recovery, alongside the digital transition.
The lockdowns in response to the outbreak of COVID-19 have had immediate effects on the environment and caused a dip in global CO2 emissions. Germany may even reach its climate target for 2020 according to forecasts. However, there is no reason to be cheerful. The pandemic and its consequences may seriously set back climate action around the globe.
The measures taken to fight the Covid-19 pandemic are changing our daily lives. Many see this as an opportunity to initiate more sustainable behaviours, and even hope that this experience of imposed sobriety will be transformed into a real awareness in favour of more virtuous lifestyles for the environment.
Discussions about the world that will emerge from the coronavirus pandemic have already started apace. Many commentators are wondering whether the crisis offers the opportunity to set the world on a more sustainable and equal path.
Scientists are particularly exposed in the current health crisis, where governments are using their advice to consolidate their decisions. Thus summoned as experts, also by the media, they find themselves both placed in collective responsibility, as is the case with the scientific council mobilised around the French government, and exposed individually. They also constitute a reference point, to which one can refer in order to gradually build up, as a citizen, an understanding of the situation. The role of science within society and in relation to the major political decisions that have to be made is thus extremely active, in various configurations, and subject to multiple pressures.
This is not to downplay the urgency of addressing the immediate impacts of the Corona crisis, but to turn towards a sustainable way forward that avoids the dead ends of apparent quick-fix solutions. Short-term economic impacts, as a result of Corona containment policies, are unavoidable. Yet, the very reason why climate action was not pushed forward hitherto was due to concerns on short-term economic impacts, notwithstanding the prospect of substantial gains in the long-run. Hence, the current disruptions should help rather than hinder policy adjustments and investments that pursue emissions reductions and a responsible use of natural resources while at the same time creating decent jobs and stimulating economic growth.