Delegation of the European Union to Colombia

COVID-19 recovery should be green and global

17/09/2020 - 07:13

OpEd by EU Ambassador to Kazakhstan Mr Sven-Olov Carlsson

On 31 August 2020, the European Union (EU) joined the WHO's coronavirus vaccine alliance COVAX, allotting €400 million ($478 million) in support of the program. The goal is to acquire 2 billion doses of a potential COVID-19 vaccine and make it available to all countries around the world. Because it is evident that no one will be safe until everyone around the world is safe.

As the world grapples with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and its longer-term impacts, we have to reflect on what we are learning from this crisis and how we can use this experience to build a better future.

Earlier this year our daily routines were shattered and most of the world’s population was locked down. We realised then how truly interdependent we used to be and how dangerously unprepared we are to anticipate and absorb such external shocks.   

As the virus was ravaging all the continents one after another, most of the governments almost spontaneously adopted inward looking attitudes, confined populations and closed national borders. However, those countries that faced the responsibility head-on and put the well-being of their citizens first came up with efficient responses.

We also observed that multilateralism and global solidarity can offer much stronger and more sustainable solutions than self-preservation. By joining forces, many governments were able to mobilise sufficient resources to reach out to the most vulnerable, protect and save millions of lives around the world.

By now, we might have acquired some basic understanding about COVID-19. We also seem to have capacities to control its spread and a vaccine could eventually become a panacea for this particular virus. Yet, we must not forget that a similar, if not larger scale, crisis is lurking around the corner. 

The scientific community seems to be unanimous that climate change and environmental degradation are amongst the main factors triggering or accentuating the spread of many infectious diseases and constitute major threats to our civilisation. However, there could be no universal vaccine against climate change and its devastating impacts.

The good news is that it is possible to use the lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic to be better prepared in the future, to build a bolder global action to address the root causes of epidemiological crises and natural disasters. In fact, it is possible to use the economic rebound from COVID-19 to accelerate the transition to a safer and more resilient future.

This is why, in July 2020, the EU leaders agreed on an overall EU budget for the next seven years and an extraordinary recovery effort known as the Next Generation EU. The €750 billion package will help the EU to rebuild after the COVID-19 pandemic and will support investment in the green and digital transitions. It comes on top of other bold national and EU-level stimulus measures (e.g. by the European Central Bank).

The EU remains committed to the goal of becoming climate neutral by 2050. And we would like to challenge anyone to beat us to it so the whole of humanity wins.

In its Biodiversity Strategy to 2030, the EU has made major commitments to protect and restore the EU’s ecosystems. We are ready to lead efforts to agree an ambitious new global biodiversity framework for post-2020 at the upcoming Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15).

The EU commends Kazakhstan for having taken bold steps to move towards truly sustainable development. In 2013, Kazakhstan launched the Green Economy Transition Plan, which is one of the most ambitious in Europe and Central Asia region. By 2050, the country is aiming to meet 50 percent of its energy needs from alternative and renewable sources. President Tokayev has recently called to lay the foundation for deep decarbonisation and "green growth" measures.

We encourage Kazakhstan to remain engaged on this path and develop robust green recovery strategies. The European Union is ready to support Kazakhstan on this journey.

Cooperation in the area of environment and green economy is also amongst the priorities of the EU – Kazakhstan Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation agreement, which entered into force in March 2020. The EU is prepared to offer expertise, finance projects, explain our regulations and share our principles for sustainable finance and development.

During 2015-2018, the EU supported the transition of Kazakhstan to a green economy model through its 7 million euro worth programme aimed to contribute to Kazakhstan’s long-term environmental sustainability and inclusive economic development.

Kazakhstan's ambition to move to a green economy model is also well aligned with the EU's regional priority to work together to enhance environmental, climate and water resilience in Central Asia, which is one of world’s most vulnerable regions in terms of climate change. The most dramatic example is the Aral Sea, once the world's fourth largest lake, now almost vanished off the face of the Earth. On top of our support to the region through UN programmes, the EU leads several regional initiatives focused on tackling the negative consequences of climate change, such as the EU-Central Asia Platform for Environment and Water Cooperation supported by the WECOOP project, the Central Asia Water and Energy Programme (CAWEP), and the efforts to decontaminate uranium legacy sites in the region.

In the framework of CAWEP programme, we have recently approved the Recipient-executed grant of USD 1.5 million to support the Government of Kazakhstan in preparation of the North Aral Sea Development and Revitalization Project through development of the feasibility study, detailed designs and environment and social impact assessments. This activity contributes to efforts of strengthening water security and climate, supporting investments and interventions that will enhance water use efficiency and climate resilience in Kazakhstan part of the Aral Sea basin and restore a critical ecosystem around North Aral Sea, with potential positive environmental impacts beyond the project area.

Through the Investment Facility for Central Asia (IFCA), the EU provides different forms of assistance to the green projects financed by European Financial Institutions (IFIs), mainly the European Investment Bank (EIB) and EBRD. Another regional programme “SWITCH Asia” is helping Kazakhstan and other Central Asia countries to develop sustainable tourism and support local SMEs working in tourism sector by developing green business approaches and access to green finance.

Working hard to find new ways to win this collective challenge and allow our children to enjoy a decent human life on a peaceful planet is not an idealistic or naïve pursuit. It is about staying true to our core values while strengthening our societies and developing our economies based on the most recent scientific discoveries and innovative technologies. There is simply no real alternative to green recovery to build a better and more resilient future.