The European Green Deal must go further

Yesterday (11 December), the European Commission unveiled its European Green Deal, setting out plans to become a carbon-neutral continent by 2050. Alexandra Phillips, Green MEP for the South East of England, argues that the Green Deal must go further to truly address the scale of the climate crisis.

European Parliament
European Parliament
Alexandra Phillips

Yesterday, the European Commission unveiled its European Green Deal to much fanfare. But how much of it promised genuinely new policy, and how much of it amounted to little more than Green-washing?

I’ve been working on the Green New Deal in Brussels since I was elected back in May, as part of the ‘Green Wave’ that saw more Green MEPs from across Europe returned to the European Parliament than ever before. Since then, I’ve been sitting on both the Environment and Employment Committees, making sure that elements of the Green New Deal trickle down into every aspect of my work. Buoyed by the success of the Green Wave, my colleagues and I waited with eager anticipation to see what green policies the new President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, would promise.

Yesterday’s announcement from her Commission, however, has left us woefully disappointed.

The Commission’s decision to remove the word ‘new’ from the Green New Deal concept (first conceived of in the UK by my predecessor, Caroline Lucas, and popularised in the United States by Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and the Sunrise Movement) speaks volumes about their approach to tackling the climate crisis, offering us very little ‘new’ in the way of substantive change.

They go neither far enough nor fast enough to tackle the fundamental environmental, economic and democratic crises we are facing. They commit to becoming carbon neutral by 2050, with a target of at least 50 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030; but this target is too far in the future and will leave large parts of the world uninhabitable at the turn of the century if not before. At this late stage in the game, and given that Europe is disproportionately responsible for the problem, and disproportionately able – or wealthy enough – to decarbonise faster, the only credible option is for us to set a target of net-zero emissions by 2030.

While no Commission can be expected to have formed a fully-fledged agenda in just one week, they should have dared to be more ambitious to meet the scale of the challenge before us.

For a Green Deal to achieve real change, it must include a number of fundamental considerations. The heart of all environmental action must address inequalities. Only by tackling people’s everyday needs can environmental policy be legitimate – high-quality jobs, affordable housing and a good standard of living, freedom from discrimination, opportunity and prosperity.

The environmental crisis is global in scope, so the Green Deal must support less industrialised nations in combating environmental destruction. The supply chains that power Europe’s green transition must not exploit communities or ecosystems in other countries. 

To enable all of this to happen, the Green Deal must have democratic oversight through People’s Assemblies. The Green Deal can only succeed if it has public support and we need to bring each and every community with us, on what has the potential to be a truly transformative and exciting journey.

And a truly Green Deal must address not only the climate crisis, but the broader environmental crises facing our planet, including biodiversity and land use.

The Green Deal must be comprehensive, with every policy area taking measures to protect and restore natural systems – this is not just about the energy sector (although that is crucial). From agriculture to trade, to transport, to construction, we must bring our whole society within sustainable limits in a radical transformation that provides a high quality of life for all. 

To make this work, we cannot be satisfied by ‘greening’ parts of our financial system. It needs a comprehensive overhaul, rebuilding it so that it’s fit for purpose, to serve everyone, not the few elite at the top.

It’s not too late to make this Green Deal a truly new one, but our window of opportunity to act is closing, and every year lost to frivolous inaction adds to the economic, social and environmental cost of environmental breakdown. The Green Wave of MEPs will continue to push for the European Green Deal to embody the hopeful, transformative vision of a real Green New Deal. This is a golden opportunity to transform our country and our continent right now and for generations to come.