The EU's green recovery is turning challenges into opportunities

Europe's green new deal is pulling the continent out of the Covid-19 crisis while planning for the far future
FILE PHOTO: European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters, ahead of an EU leaders summit at the European Council headquarters, in Brussels, Belgium July 16, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

As the world fights the Covid-19 pandemic and gradually starts to prepare for dealing with its long-term impacts, governments and societies need to learn from this crisis and  build a better future.

The main lesson learned is how the deep interdependency between our countries results in vulnerability to unanticipated external shocks. With the virus spreading uncontrollably from continent to continent, the governments that have been more successful are those who have come out pro-actively with clear and honest plans based on science to respond to the virus.

epa08557974 Screens display the evolution of Spanish main stock market index IBEX 35 in the opening of the trading session in Madrid, Spain, 21 July 2020. The index IBEX 35 rose a 1.61 thanks to the agreement reached by the leaders of the European Union to launch an economic reconstruction plan after the coronavirus pandemic.  EPA/ALTEA TEJIDO

The UAE has been at the vanguard. From the very start, the Emirates has developed large-scale capacity to carry out mass testing and deliver medical care. It has introduced clear rules on social distancing that have helped reign in contagion. It has responded promptly to the economic crisis by announcing a huge economic stimulus package.

While the European Union was hit hard, we have delivered a powerful and coherent response, successfully flattening the curve. On July 21, under the German presidency of the Council or the EU, European leaders reached a historic, landmark deal to bring the continent out of the Covid-19 crisis. The agreement on a recovery package, combined with a seven-year budget totalling more than €1.8 trillion, makes the EU stronger and more united than ever.

The EU has turned the Covid-19 challenge into an opportunity. Our recovery plan prepares the future by investing into the green and digital transitions. We will build a fairer and more resilient society. Climate objectives figure prominently in the package, which earmarks 30 per cent of the budget for climate investments.

The virus is a large-scale human tragedy. Science tells us that this is just a warning compared to the existential risks for our civilisation associated with global warming. Evidence shows  that new infectious disease outbreaks are increasingly triggered and spread by global warming, as well as ecosystem and biodiversity degradation.

A healthy natural environment is a prerequisite for resilience and prosperity. If the international community fails to bring increasing greenhouse gas emissions down and environmental destruction continues, we will face catastrophic consequences, including making large parts of our planet uninhabitable. It is happening now and will accelerate in the coming decades. Also, the growing number of extreme weather events will continue to destroy livelihoods, crops, homes and infrastructure. It will trigger massive wildfires and cause mass migration on an unprecedented scale.

Global warming is harder to tackle than the Covid-19 pandemic, and the risks are even greater. There is no vaccine against climate change and its devastating impacts. We have to flatten the emissions curve fast. This will only be possible if we take bold action. Therefore, we must use the economic rebound from Covid-19 to accelerate the transition to a safer, more resilient future. The good news is that we can do this!

The choices we make today will define our future. Over the next two years, governments around the world will seek to spend around €10tn. The massive investment needed to kick-start our economies must relieve the burden on our  shoulders, not make it heavier. This is why recovery plans should be designed as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build back better and invest in the green economy of the 21st century – and not in the  carbon economy of the past.

It is great that the UAE maintains – despite the economic challenges brought by the pandemic – its plans for diversification and investing in renewable energy, thus directing the country towards a sustainable future. This is leadership.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wearing a mask to protect against coronavirus, leaves the main chamber of the European Parliament in Brussels, Thursday, July 23, 2020. European leaders took a historic step towards sharing financial burdens among the EU's 27 countries by agreeing to borrow and spend together to pull the economy out of the deep recession caused by the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
<span>Global warming is harder to tackle than the Covid-19 pandemic, and the risks are even greater</span>

The EU will engage with the UAE and the world on ways to direct investment towards environmentally sustainable economic activities. We will share expertise, finance common projects, explain our regulations and build true and deep partnerships.

It is not idealistic to invest everything into winning this collective challenge. It is about allowing our children to enjoy a good life on a peaceful planet. It is about staying true to our values, listening to science, ensuring  our prosperity, and building a better, cleaner, healthier and safer future. There is no good alternative to green recovery.

Global solidarity, open and fair trade, rules-based order and multilateralism are crucial elements for the green recovery. We need to do this together. The European Union invites our UAE friends and all our international partners to put in place clear and robust low-carbon policies and green recovery strategies. This will give our societies a sense of direction and purpose, and guide investors, businesses, workers and consumers towards the sustainability that the next generation demands from us. Let’s advance together in this direction.

Andrea Matteo Fontana is the European Union Ambassador to the UAE

Peter Fischer is the German Ambassador to the UAE