Covid-19 has impacted the economy greatly, so the EU have produced a recovery package to ensure that this economic recession creates a sustainable future. The EU are using this time to kickstart the eco-friendly future we so desperately need.
The recovery package involves a lot of areas, and the revamped green deal is one of them. This includes focussing on a more circular economy, starting more renewable energy projects across Europe, cleaner transport by installing more electric charging points, and adding money to the Just Transition Fund which helps businesses adjust to a sustainable future. Placing the green deal in the centre of this revised proposal shows that now is the perfect time to transition towards a greener future.
The Green Deal aims to keep global warming under 1.5°C, and in March the EU proposed the Climate Law. This law aims to make the EU carbon neutral by 2050. In January, there was pressure to increase reduction targets to ensure that this goal was met. However, the law has yet to be approved by Parliament. The UN Climate Change conference has been postponed until 2021, so the council have until then to approve. Whilst the pandemic has shown us the effects less pollution has on the environment, it has also postponed a lot of climate talks due to social distancing regulations.
The EU has faced enormous pressure from all sides to delay climate change initiatives. Human Rights Watch (HRW) have reported that China has already announced climate initiative delays, including extending environmental standards deadlines, and postponing an auction for the right to build solar farms. Some countries in the EU are requesting delays due to the pandemic’s effect on businesses. HWR said ‘Poland [is] calling for a carbon trading program to be put on hold and the Czech Republic [is] urging that the EU’s landmark climate bill be abandoned, while airline companies have pressed regulators to delay emissions-cutting policies.’ Currently, the only delayed initiatives are the New EU Strategy, Empowering the consumer for the green transition, ReFuelEU Aviation, and FuelEU Maritime.
The EU’s approach to use this economic recession to work towards a greener future is not shared by the US. Businesses are inevitably suffering, but we have to question if the requests for relaxed enforcements of climate laws is due to the pandemic or just an excuse.
In March, the Guardian reported that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suspended its enforcement of some of its environmental laws. Businesses will not have to comply with the routine monitoring of pollution levels, and no penalties will be issued if the businesses can provide proof that any breach was directly because of Covid-19.
Former EPA officials have voiced their concern, especially about air pollution. The factories that emit air pollution are usually located in low-income communities with a high number of people of colour. Air pollution can worsen the effects of Covid-19, a respiratory virus that attacks the lungs. Medical professionals have previously said that people of colour are more likely to die from the virus due to systemic racism in healthcare.
A letter written by environmental advocates says, “excusing the potential release of excess toxic air pollutants and other pollution that exacerbates asthma, breathing difficulty and cardiovascular problems in the midst of a pandemic that can cause respiratory failure is irresponsible from a public health perspective.”
Environmental advocates are also arguing that plants that still have staff working should be able to comply with pollution level laws, and any suspension of enforcements should be on a case-by-case basis to avoid unnecessary violations.
The pandemic has taught us a lot of things. We have seen pollution levels drop, and a lot of activists have called for this time to be used to create a greener future. As economies fall into recession, governments want to use non-sustainable methods to get businesses back on track quickly. But, the EU’s Just Transition Fund is a prime example of how this may be the perfect time to transition to greener methods. It is up to governments to reflect on their current climate laws and decide whether to use this pandemic to prompt change.