The conference on the Geopolitics of the Green Deal, held by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) together with the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), highlighted the wide-ranging geopolitical implications of the Green Deal both for Europe and the world as a whole. The EESC is ready to play its part in this process, ensuring a clear civil society's ownership of the European Green Deal (EGD).
Almost 30 years after the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the climate-damaging emissions have risen massively, and global warming is currently heading for a temperature rise of 2.7 degrees Celsius according to the emissions gap report released in October 2021. Natural disasters, disruptions in global supply chains, possible shortages of basic goods and raw materials can bring a risk of conflicts that would inflict considerable damage on the European and global economies.
Christa Schweng, President of the EESC, particularly stressed:
This is why the green transition is a question of survival for both Europe and the world at large. And while Europe must lead by example, we need to also engage the rest of world to join the path towards a greener future. Organised civil society can play a crucial role in doing so. We should not forget that a successful green transition first and foremost needs the support of our citizens.
Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson added:
Our relations with our partners will change. The EU represents only 8% of global GHG emissions, so the reduction of our energy dependency from other countries will not make our partners less important. On the contrary, everyone must be on-board if we are to solve the climate crisis. A new energy system will bring about new relationships.
Barbara Pompili, French Minister for the Ecological Transition, noted that the Green Deal and the green transition would affect dramatically the international relations. Decarbonisation, for example, can lead in a first phase to higher gas import dependency from Russia, followed by a decline of energy imports, which could make EU-Russia relations more complex. She also mentioned a number of policies within and outside the EU, putting emphasis on Europe's responsibility to create sustainable supply chains, with clauses in the Free Trade Agreements to protect ecological standards, biodiversity, and workers' rights.
Trade shall not be opposed to the environment anymore, she said.
The conference, organised by the EESC's External Relations section (REX) in cooperation with the Committee's ECO, NAT, SOC and TEN sections,* brought together speakers from EU institutions, international organisations, NGOs, stakeholders, professors and prominent experts. It was divided in four panels and focused on the following key geopolitical axes of the EGD: the EU's leadership in climate action efforts, the industry global competitiveness, the geopolitical consequences of the energy transition and the cooperation with international partners ensuring that no one is left behind. The participants also raised the importance of the role of civil society organisations and citizens in co-shaping, implementing and promoting the EGD policy frameworks.
When the EU acts, the world watches
With the EGD, the EU has now taken the lead and needs to continue to be a role model, based on its values of sustainability, solidarity and international cooperation.
In fact we know what we have to do and actually know how to do it, stressed Bruno Pozzi, Regional Director of Europe Office, UN Environment Programme (UNEP), one of the keynote speakers.
Europe has to be as ambitious as possible in cutting emissions, protecting and restoring biodiversity and fighting pollution. Solidarity plays a vital role in securing the Green Deal and ensuring a truly just transition. Finally, multilateralism is the key to set out and explain new policies and trade tools, lifting people out of poverty.
At the COP26, the EU's initiative to reach an agreement with South Africa pledging EUR 8 billions to shift away from coal, with the support of France, Germany, the US and the UK, has been a global innovation and even a model to accelerate the fair transition around the world. It is through multilateralism rather than divisive geopolitics that the planetary crisis can be tackled. This is the only path to reach deals, and Minister Pompili reaffirmed that the upcoming French Presidency of the EU Council is determined to follow it.
Towards open strategic autonomy ensuring that no one is left behind
An important horizontal aspect of the EGD is the EU's intention to strengthen its open strategic autonomy, which involves diversifying the supply for the EU's imports of critical raw materials and protecting the economy from unfair competition, while encouraging partners to adopt similar climate ambitions.
The main focus should be on green transition of the energy sector, and in this sense the EU's geopolitical actions should help to reduce the volatility of energy prices, while lowering the risks related to the promotion and expansion of clean energy use. Open strategic autonomy requires new value chains, where all developments must be accompanied by quality local jobs and returns to local communities.
The green transformation will have huge implications on the economy and society. But we should always keep in mind that the clean energy transition is and will be for people and the future generations. And as such, it is important to develop policies that conjugate climate goals, energy security goals and social, economic and employment expectations, highlighted Alessandro Blasi from the International Energy Agency.
As Dr. Phoebe Koundouri, Co-chair of the UN Sustainable Development Network who concluded the event, said:
This is the major global momentum for green and net zero transition. The experience of EU countries in pioneering for many innovative financial transitions will be valuable for developing countries, which want and must engage in this transformation. Ms. Koundouri also added that public money was not enough for the sustainability transition, and urged the corporate world to build on public and private partnerships in order to finance future developments.
Finally, Dimitris Dimitriadis, President of the EESC's REX section and chair of the Conference, mentioned the importance of climate diplomacy and Europe's leading role, but made clear that we were running out of time.
*ECO: Economic and Monetary Union, Economic and Social Cohesion
*NAT: Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment
*SOC: Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship
*TEN: Transport, Energy, Infrastructure and the Information Society