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How Green is the European Green Deal?

In this article we talked about the story of Greta Thunberg and how she started a worldwide movement of young climate activists, demanding stronger action from politicians to prevent a climate catastrophe. In 2019, students from all over the continent joined Fridays for Future and took part in demonstrations and activism for the environment. Many of them also had the chance to vote in the European Parliament elections that year, with the result that the group of the Greens increased from 50 to 74 members. It was clear that European citizens were asking for greener and more sustainable policies, and the European Commission responded by launching the European Green Deal as soon as it took office.

But what is exactly the European Green Deal?

First of all, the European Green Deal is a comprehensive strategy. It is not a single proposal, but a package of different legislative initiatives, strategies and action plans, which are being launched in different moments throughout 2020 and 2021. It is a strategy based on the principle of environmental integration: sustainability is an aspect that needs to be taken into account when designing policies in many different sectors, because every policy decision has an impact on our environment. For this reason, it spans many different areas: energy, industry and circular economy, mobility, agriculture, biodiversity and pollution. For each of these areas, the European Commission has defined targets and devised specific instruments and laws to achieve them. All the policies implemented under the umbrella of the Green Deal need to contribute to the achievement of the targets of the Paris Agreement and of the EU Climate Law, which set a legally binding target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Second, the European Green Deal takes seriously the impact of the green transition on certain industries and regions. For this reason, it set up a Just Transition Fund to support the workers which will need to be reskilled or change job, and the geographies whose economy will need to change.

Third, the European Green Deal is a growth strategy. It aims to put Europe’s economy and society on a more sustainable path, while also guaranteeing prosperity. This goal should be achieved by improving the efficiency and competitiveness of the economy, with the aim to decouple resource use from economic growth (meaning that the economy will continue growing while resources depletion will decrease). In order to achieve this, the Green Deal aims to harness the potential of technology, renewable energy and of “smarter” and digital solutions, and to incentivise investment and innovation. Nonetheless, some people are doubtful about the possibility to make the economy sustainable while continuing to grow. Economic growth drives consumption, and consumption drives resources depletion. Can the European GDP continue to grow while our environmental impact decreases? But most importantly: do we need the GDP to continue growing in order to live comfortable, fulfilling and safe lives?

When we talk about sustainability, the crucial question to ask is what should be sustained. What is our vision of the world? What do we value, what do we prioritise? It seems that the European Union is torn between the will to take action for climate and the need to continue delivering affluence, prosperity and growth. But if the environmental movement already managed once to change the direction of policy-making in Brussels, by making green policies and sustainability mainstreaming the norm, they can do it again. We need a new change of paradigm. Can we imagine a society not based on economic growth? Some of us are already doing it: check the work of Kate Raworth on alternative economic models for the 21st century (Doughnut Economics), or the many post-growth social models. We do have solutions, the challenge is to translate them into policies, and to convince policy-makers, and especially European policy-makers, that their constituency wants real change.

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