The European Union is a roadmap for making the EU’s economy sustainable by turning climate and environmental challenges into opportunities across all policy areas and making the transition just and inclusive for all. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the EU has put into place an EU recovery plan to restart the socioeconomic system after the crisis, fostering a shift towards sustainable development. The EU Recovery plan will lead the way out of the crisis and lay the foundations for a modern and more sustainable Europe. Thomas Wagner, Deputy Head of the EU Delegation to the UN in Geneva underlined these efforts in the UNECE Regional Forum’s High-Level Plenary Panel on ‘key actions and accelerators to tackle the socio-economic impact of COVID 19 and to promote sustainable recovery’.
Ambassador Wagner highlighted that “we believe that we stand, globally, at a pivotal moment, in the fight against the climate crisis, the biodiversity crisis, and in the fight for sustainability. The COVID-19 pandemic, causing an economic recession, has introduced further challenges in this fight. But the tipping points are getting dangerously near and frankly, we only have a couple of years left to make the necessary changes in our policies if we really want to avoid reaching those tipping points of no return.” Furthermore, he stressed the importance of shaping the recovery from the pandemic as a determining factor whether we can succeed in realizing success in our fight against the climate crisis, in protecting our planet and its environment.
Ambassador Wagner presented four key actions to tackle the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. He emphasizes that 2021 is a pivotal year for recovering better and greener and to address the triple related crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. So the first driver for the recovery plan is the environmental and climate emergency. The European Union welcomes the joint decision within the UNECE, for the region to focus its work in the coming two years on the circular economy. In late 2019 the European Union committed itself to become the world's first climate neutral continent by 2050. Ambassador Wagner highlights in his speech “we do not need to “win” this race; in fact, we would welcome if others beat us to it. In this particular case, other nations’ success is also our success.” In this respect, the European Union welcomes the UNECE SDG progress assessment report, which elaborates if the current pace of progress can be maintained, it is likely most countries in the region will have to reduce fossil fuel subsidies to near zero by 2030.
The second key driver behind the European Green Deal and the recovery plan is prosperity. The Green Deal is a roadmap to transform the EU into a fair and prosperous society, with a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy where there are no net emissions of greenhouse gases in 2050 and where economic growth is decoupled from resource use while embracing the SDGs and the Paris Agreement. The EU will mobilise industry for a low-carbon and circular economy, build and renovate in an energy and resource-efficient way, accelerate the shift to sustainable and smart mobility, design a fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly food system, preserve and restore ecosystems and biodiversity, address and prevent pollution and embed sustainability into the corporate governance framework.
Deputy Head of the EU Delegation to the UN Thomas Wagner pointed out that the “Green Deal is fully embedded in our recovery plan. The Green Deal is our blueprint for implementing a green recovery model, to ‘build back better’ and invest in an economy of the 21st century. Our unprecedented stimulus package, including the Recovery and Resilience Facility worth €750bn, gives us a unique opportunity to invest in a transition to a sustainable, socially just, resilient and climate neutral economy. Through our external action policies and cooperation programmes, we also support our partner countries in such endeavours.”
He added the third key driver for the EU strategy is just transition. The EU must strive for a just transition or there won’t be any transition. People who are most vulnerable in our societies suffer most from any disruption: We see it in the pandemic, we will see it with the climate crisis, we will see it in the biodiversity crisis. People will not be part of a change if they believe that they will be left behind. And then the change will not happen. Moreover, the COVID-19 crisis is reversing the global progress towards the SDGs. We must reinvigorate the momentum for action to deliver the SDGs by 2030 leaving no one behind while ensuring a green, sustainable, digital and inclusive post COVID-19 recovery. “I believe that we all want to “go back to normal” now. But we should be careful not to say that our economies should go back to normal. Because apart from the climate crisis, apart from the biodiversity crisis, we're also in an industrial revolution,” highlighted Thomas Wagner in his statement.
As the fourth key driver, Deputy Head of the EU Delegation to the UN emphasized the need to really innovate our economies at world scale. Economy cannot expand forever without consequences. Such innovation includes increasing circularity, and sustainable consumption and production patterns across all sectors, among other things. The European Union has been working on its circular economy path for a decade, and the second Circular Economy Action Plan, published one year ago, is one of the most important pillars of the Green Deal. As such, the EU welcomes the opportunity presented by the UNECE to cooperate on circular economy across the relevant sectors also in this organisation.
EU Ambassador Wagner mentioned the inevitable digitalisation that will be among the key drivers for the post-pandemic sustainable recovery, and the success in digitalisation will also determine the success in the green, sustainable, inclusive recovery. The EU, through the Digital Decade strategy published last week, is seeking to form a global coalition around a shared vision of human-centric digitalisation. The EU must join with others who are willing to cooperate to provide effective democratic governance over technology and the digital economy, and the European Union’s digital transformation must support our climate action and environment goals.
With his final words, Ambassador Wagner stressed “Let 2021 be the year that take us on the road to real and sustainable recovery; let us open the gates to green growth and a healthy future for all.”
The Regional Forum on Sustainable Development was accompanied by simultaneous sign language interpretation, to create inclusivity.