The end of 2020 seems to have marked the closure of a cycle of political turbulence that started in 2016 with the Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump as the President of the United States. The European Union, which could have emerged from this period in a much weakened condition, has instead been strengthened, having established a clear long-term project for European societies and for Europe’s place in the world: the Green Deal.
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 years preceding the health crisis linked to the Covid-19 pandemic, marked in particular by the oil counter-shock of 2014 and the signing of the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015, saw the emergence of (weak) signals of diversification of the activity and investment of certain oil companies—essentially the European majors—towards low-carbon energies. While these announcements could have a knock-on effect on the sector, they are still very insufficient in view of the effort required to initiate a rapid and profound transition of the sector towards decarbonisation,2 and are contested by several civil society actors.
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.
European Commission published its Farm to Fork Strategy for a fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly food system, one of the Green Deal’s 11 components. In its general principles, the strategy sets an ambitious course for the transformation of the entire sector, in line with recent scientific findings modelling sustainable food systems. Achieving the drafted objectives will, however, require going a step further by making this strategy the reference framework for the implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the deployment of industrial strategies in the food sector (particularly in the context of the negotiations of the post-Covid-19 crisis recovery plans) and the (re)negotiation of international trade agreements.
The current health crisis has shown, both in its emergence and in its impacts, multifaceted and interconnected risks and vulnerabilities, both in humanitarian and social, economic and environmental terms. Most of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals are concerned, individually and above all in their indivisibility, which constitutes the core and added value of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In the context of post-crisis reconstruction, more than ever, the implementation of this universal agenda is a necessity, particularly to reduce vulnerabilities to crises by optimising the interactions between the SDGs. This post proposes some avenues.
The pandemic offers an opportunity to shape climate-friendly recovery packages that both boost shorter-term job creation and incomes, and generate long-term sustainability benefits. Polling shows large popular support for recovery packages to prioritise climate change.
The corona crisis has grave consequences for health, the economy and society. Pandemics such as COVID-19, Ebola and cholera will return repeatedly unless we understand what causes them. New infectious diseases in humans are often unleashed by viruses and bacteria in wild animals. The destruction of undisturbed ecosystems brings humans into closer contact with animal species that could transmit hitherto unknown pathogens. Consequently, the only way to successfully prevent localised epidemics and continental pandemics is to view human, animal and environmental health as one unit, as it is in the One Health concept.
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.
Rising case numbers are highlighting how the coronavirus crisis is escalating, both globally and in Germany. Some people have already begun to ask themselves a delicate question: besides the medical and societal challenges brought on by the pandemic, could we also find new forms of cooperation? Might we also take a different approach to other global problems afterwards?