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An European Green Deal for Climate Justice?

Today the European Parliament will organize a hearing for Frans Timmermans to assess his suitability for the position of Executive Vice President responsible for the European Green Deal. This Green Deal aims to set Europe on a path towards becoming the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. It should become Europe’s hallmark and requires collective ambition, political leadership and a just transition for the most affected. As climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time, Timmermans has a very important task to fulfill.

Climate change and climate justice

Climate change is a hot topic that receives a lot of attention. Climate marches are being organized worldwide and the UN recently hosted a climate action summit in New York to raise ambition and increase climate action. The passionate speech by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg at the Summit also gained a lot of attention. ‘You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. Yet I am one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing.’ As Greta states, she, and we, are lucky because despite the fact that the effects of climate change are felt worldwide, climate change unfairly burdens developing countries.

Climate change cannot be observed and dealt with without addressing climate justice. Climate justice links human rights and development to the climate debate. This is very important because with the rapidly growing international socioeconomic inequalities the burden on the poorest and the politically marginalized will only grow. In order to compensate for this, there has been agreed at COP 15 (Copenhagen 2009) that by 2020 US$ 100 billion per year need to be mobilized by the most industrialized countries, to assist developing countries to cover the costs of climate mitigation and adaptation. However, so far the committed resources are much lower. Together with our European partner Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS), we will carry out a research on climate justice in the coming year. What are the consequences of our own climate policies in developing countries? How can we make sure that these policies are fair? How to ensure that our policies truly correspond with what those countries need?

Recent developments on climate change

At the European level many new and revised strategies have been implemented in recent years. One of those new strategies, in the run up to the Green Deal, is the ‘clean planet for all’ strategy, adopted by the Commission in November 2018. This new strategy aims for a prosperous, modern, competitive and climate-neutral economy by 2050. By investing in realistic technological solutions, empowering citizens and aligning actions in key areas such as industrial policy, finance and research Europe is leading the way towards climate-neutrality.

The clean planet for all strategy is just one example of recent developments. This strategy along with other developments on climate action, sustainable investments and circular economy (the three key topics of the EU regarding climate change) lead to the strategic agenda 2019-2024, adopted in June 2019. This agenda sets out a vision on climate-neutral, green, fair and social Europe and stresses the need for a deep transformation of the EU economy and society to achieve climate-neutrality. 

Supporting those who are most affected

The new European Parliament will give priority to the ambitious European Green Deal according to President-elect Von der Leyen’s political guidelines. This Green Deal, that Timmermans will be responsible for, sets Europe on a path towards becoming the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. Within the first 100 days in office, Timmermans will present the first European Climate Law, aiming to transform the way we make and organize our society. The European Green Deal can only work if it brings people along and supports the most affected ones. This is why Von der Leyen announced a New Just Transition Fund. This fund strives to support the people and regions most affected by the transition towards climate-neutrality.

As the EU is responsible for around 9% of global emissions, climate change can only succeed if others follow. That is why the EU needs to lead international negotiations to increase the level of ambition of other major emitters by 2021. Timmermans states in answers to the European Parliament: “In my term I will focus my attention on safeguarding the credibility of the Paris Agreement and working towards encouraging robust implementation of policies and acceleration of ambition, particularly by the world’s major emitters.” He also says: “My underlying goal as we proceed with the green transition is to make sure that nobody is left behind, and that the opportunities it will offer are properly distributed.

Would this Green Deal be enough?

It may be clear, that Timmermans as Executive Vice President responsible for the European Green Deal, has an important task to fulfill. Europe wants to be the first climate-neutral economy, but what about our emissions in other countries? The Netherlands, for example, achieves its CO2 target by outsourcing CO2 emissions. By shutting down our coal-fired power stations, we invest in stations in other countries whereby we outsource our emissions. To have an climate-neutral economy this needs to be taken into consideration. 

Moreover, Timmermans and the political guidelines by Von der Leyen emphasize the fact that the Green Deal only works if it supports the most affected ones. But who are the most affected ones? It seems an easy way to lump all those countries together while they need different (local) solutions. Nobody can be left behind, as Timmermans emphasizes, this includes affected communities in Europe, as well as those in developing countries.

Despite the clear explanation of Timmermans’ tasks, the briefing is also vague and misses out on a few important questions. The ‘Leave nobody behind’ part is crucial. While many developing countries have good economic growth rates, they are wary of implementing expensive climate change policies. Many of these developing countries believe it’s unfair that they should pay for a problem they have not created. Climate change and climate justice should go hand in hand. The question remains: to what extent will Timmermans’ European Green Deal take all this into account?

Photo: PES