While the Trump administration tries to help struggling oil companies and continues to roll back environmental policies, the European Union is planning a green recovery, with a new proposal to pour hundreds of billions of euros into new renewable energy, clean transportation, building renovation, and other programs designed to help Europe shrink its carbon footprint.
Though the plan isn’t yet final, most EU member countries see prioritizing climate action in the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic as necessary. “There are strong synergies between climate action and addressing the COVID-19 crisis,” says Thomas Vergna, policy officer for the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy in the Netherlands. “The coronavirus crisis is exposing a profound problem of resilience in our societies and economies. We need economic strategies that anticipate transition risk. At the same time, the physical risk from climate and environmental breakdown is rising, as recent extreme events have shown. Resilience—in production and trade, finance and public services—needs to be part of our policy goals. If COVID-19 has shown the importance of understanding and preparing for risk, it is imperative that this lesson is applied to the climate and environmental risks we are facing in the long term.”
Some plans were already underway, including large-scale renovations to make buildings more efficient, investments in new transportation infrastructure such as electric car chargers, and new clean hydrogen production. But the new commitments will make everything move faster. “They’re doubling down on existing strategies,” says David McGinty, global director of the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE), a platform that is overseen by the nonprofit WRI. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised to hear countries looking to accelerate existing plans, specifically around systems transformations, which are usually long-term strategies.”
The new proposal comes after European leaders said that they want to make the “European Green Deal” the center of the recovery, and Germany and France both called for a green recovery plan for every sector of the economy. The 750 billion euro proposal ($826.3 billion) calls for investing 91 billion euros a year in building renovations, which should spur another 350 billion in private investment, more than 1 billion euros in support for green hydrogen production, as much as 60 billion euros for zero-emission trains, and billions more for renewable energy and to support the sale of electric cars. The EU heads of state and governments will discuss the proposal in meetings on June 18 and 19.
“We should recover better by investing in the decarbonization of all of the sectors of the economy and the transition to a circular economy and plans that support adaptation and resilience, ensuring universal access to energy, integrated water resources management, and sustainable food systems,” Vergna says. “It also means that we should do no harm by helping support countries with integrating climate adaptation and mitigation measures in their stimulus plans, including by reducing fossil fuel subsidies, restructuring coal mining regions, and moving beyond economic dependency on oil and gas.”
The EU can learn from the recovery from the last economic crisis, he says, when green investments performed well. “The economic recovery that we are about to embark on offers a significant opportunity for a more resilient and sustainable future and will advance the much-needed transition,” he says. “We can ensure that the recovery results in economic growth while strengthening our resilience against future shocks.”
China also plans to pour new investment into green infrastructure as it recovers. In the U.S., no similar plans have progressed this far, though many are calling for it, including 200 companies, from Microsoft and Nike to General Mills and Dow, that virtually lobbied Congress on May 13 for a “climate-smart” recovery. Business leaders are calling for resilient infrastructure to help protect the U.S. from future shocks that could be far worse than the current pandemic—and they want the U.S. to follow other countries in committing to a net-zero economy by 2050 or sooner.