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Building Resilient Futures: What’s Next for The European Green Deal?

Author Janez Potočnik
Published 31 Jan 2024
Energy & industry

Decarbonisation is here to stay and while top level government’s ambitions are there, the policy and regulatory landscape across the energy and industry portfolio is fluid and highly technical.

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Four years after its launch, the European Green Deal stands as a landmark initiative in EU climate policy. But with COP28 concluded and a new policy cycle about to commence, what's next?

The question should not be whether we continue with the policy itself, but rather where it needs to be strengthened, and what is needed to make it more implementable.

Why Equity Matters 

Recent modelling has shown that in market economies, wealth tends to flow upwards. Only policies that redistribute resources can stop this from happening.  

Club of Rome’s Earth4All publication showed that, left unchecked, rising global inequality in the next 50 years will lead to increasingly dysfunctional societies. According to the project’s author, “regional societal breakdown cannot be ruled out this century” and we will see negative social tipping points before severe environmental ones.   

Alleviating inequality and poverty is therefore key if we want people to be concerned about regenerative economics and decarbonisation. Social and environmental efforts must go hand in hand and clearly deserve more attention.  
Breaking the Links: Decoupling Resource Use and Environmental Impact  

Access to, and use of natural resources have always been closely related to the level of wellbeing achieved by nations. They have also been closely tied to stability, security, and conflicts. The history of the colonialisation of nature and access to natural resources is also central to fairness and equity.

Research conducted by The International Resource Panel shows that consumption and production patterns designed by the industrial world are wasteful. If we do not change them, we will face increasingly more severe impacts, while not having met basic human needs. We need a fundamental shift in how we use resources, away from production and consumption systems, towards circular, resource efficient societies which prioritise wellbeing for all.   
Blind Spots in Policy Making 

Attention should be given to blind spots in policy making. First, we need a more holistic approach to system change. Silo logic and the lack of capacity or knowledge on how to translate the system, change visions into concrete policies and investments, results in conflicting actions and policies that hinder the real systemic transformation. 

Second, more attention should be given to the roots of the problems, addressing fundamental pressures. We lack focus on natural resource use as well as on market signals that can shape consumer and producer behaviour.  

And third, too much policy attention, especially in climate, is given to the supply side of the economy. We should give more attention to the demand side. Efficiency should be complemented with sufficient policies. For example, cleaning the steel industry is much needed, and necessary, but if we are not asking the right questions such as how much of the steel is inbuilt in underused private cars or empty buildings, we are not addressing all the challenges and opportunities linked to more sustainable use of steel overall.

Challenging the wasteful behaviour, in particular in high-income countries, would help to address the equity related questions.
Lessons from the Pandemic 

Lessons learned from the pandemic are encouraging, but also worrying. When faced with great challenges, we are able and ready to act. Governments do act, although often too little too late. And private actors need and want to be part of the solution. Innovation and financial capacity could be quickly activated.   

But the stark reality is also clear. We still do not take climate and other environmental challenges seriously enough. While eloquent speeches at COP call for a bold transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewables, the real world paints a different picture. Copernicus, the European climate agency, informed us that last year’s global temperature was just under 1.5C pre-industrial levels.   

We should prepare for the worst. But the impacts, such as huge costs, are already here and unavoidable. The real question, then, is not if we'll react, but why we wait until after tragedy strikes when proactive action could have spared us so much.  
Shifting Business Models 

The concern that business leaders do not understand the risks and challenges ahead is wrong.

The World Economic Forum's latest Global Risk Perception Survey highlights their concerns about failing to mitigate and adapt to climate impacts, including natural disasters, extreme weather, biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse, and resource scarcity.  

Any transformation is a major opportunity for those who are innovative and those who understand the essence of the challenges ahead of us. We should not accept that meeting human needs should be resource intensive and stop stimulating extraction based on economic success. Rather we must reward responsible, innovative, creative ways of meeting human needs. Providing systems that deliver human needs would incentivize cross-sector innovation and shifts to more future-fit business models. This in turn would lead to a decline in resource use, benefiting both people and planet.   
Climate Change, Conflict, and Geopolitics  

We are seeing an increasing number of emerging conflicts across the globe, and it is important to understand the security challenges in the broader perspective. According to a joint communication by the European Commission, out of the 20 countries most vulnerable to climate change, 12 are currently in conflict. 

Due to increased security threats and a war on our continent, the European geopolitical reality is changing. We cannot ignore that. But it is essential to understand that changing our relationship with the rest of nature is ultimately not only an environmental challenge, but also an economic, equity and security imperative. The current relationship is not stable, nor balanced. It will be resolved either with immediate collective action based on cooperation, or in a hard and painful way. This is the choice we have, and this is the real question behind our sustainability and transformation efforts.   
Sharing Sovereignty for a Sustainable Future  

These are some of the questions behind the future of the EGD, the future of European Union, and the future of the world.  

Solving them would demand rethinking existing outdated governance structures. For the first time in human history, we face the emergence of a single, tightly coupled human social-ecological system of planetary scope. Many of the existing and emerging challenges can be addressed only through more cooperation and by sharing sovereignty at both a European and global level.    

One thing is clear. The future will be green… or there will be no future.   


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