The European green agenda is key to saving the planet—but it could also save an enlightenment-based multilateral order from nationalist irrationalism.
We are about to go past the point of no return regarding climate change.
All scientists are pointing out that global warming is an irreversible reality and that it is now up to human action to set limits to it. We need specifically to mitigate the temperature increase, which causes serious damage to our way of life and could even threaten the human species.
Climate action has become a categorical imperative for all those who want public affairs to be governed on the basis of reason and scientific knowledge. It is not by chance that the extreme right and the rising identity movements have chosen to make the ecological dimension one of their battlefields—yet another aspect of the war being waged against the enlightenment.
In 2015, the international community managed to thrash out the Paris agreement, aiming to keep the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial times and certainly within the 2C threshold of irreparable damage to the planet and those who inhabit it. This objective must be translated into actions which allow for a drastic reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions and tackle the much-needed decarbonisation of the economy—effectively, steadily and ambitiously.
Putting an end to dependence on coal is the greatest economic transformation our societies will experience since the industrial revolution. It is a huge restructuring—affecting production, distribution and consumption—and it will bring about significant changes in energy, infrastructure, transport, tax systems, financial regulation and international trade. We are facing a Herculean task, in which the planet is at stake—and our way of life with it.
This transformation, the green transition, is neither cost-free nor however without potential gains. Particularly, there are costs for industry, for workers and consumers, which need to be shared in a fair manner and through the appropriate social ‘shock absorbers’. But there are also potential benefits, in job creation and equally shared and redistributed growth.
The task of making the green transition a just and inclusive transition is the key to addressing together the two major challenges faced by democracies around the world: inequality and climate change. A just transition is the only way to make this possible, avoiding social and electoral eco-reactions which reject and prevent the important changes we must undertake in our labour market, our economy and our society.
Europe is faced with the obligation, and the opportunity, to lead this green revolution. But it is not only an ethical imperative. In assuming the leadership of global climate action, at issue for the old continent is the internal legitimacy of its integration and its multilateral vision of international relations. Becoming the champion of one of the economic competitions of today’s world is also at stake.
The green agenda has become the best way for the EU to rebuild the trust and credit of its citizens—citizens who require new sources of legitimacy for further integration. This is undoubtedly the best agenda for a transnational co-operation which has managed to dilute borders but now faces a nationalist withdrawal. What better way to criticise those who make the strengthening of borders their raison d’être than to put at the heart of the political agenda a theme on which they have nothing to offer?
For Europe, climate action is also the best lever to defend its multilateral vision of a world based on rules and dialogue—a vision seriously threatened by fierce competition between great powers which know only the language of force. The common climate threat allows no room for competition. Nor can we (separately) negotiate with the climate—we can only co-operate, which is exactly what we Europeans are trying to assert in a hostile and aggressive world.
And Europe has a great opportunity in the green economy. We are involved in different races—artificial intelligence, mobile telecommunications and the digital revolution—but we don’t play a leadership role in any of them. The green economy, and the innovation and technology stemming from decarbonisation, offer however a clear winning ground for Europeans. Not only can Europe push the rest of the world to commit to save the planet; it can also lead the economy of tomorrow.
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In this regard, the new European Commission has presented its flagship programme, the European Green Deal, backed by its first vice-president, Frans Timmermans. An investment plan is envisaged to mobilise resources amounting to €260 billion, with a Just Transition Fund as a social buffer for the sectors and regions most affected by this necessary transformation. Combining investment and compensation mechanisms is, without doubt, the correct approach.
Besides that, the commission will raise our emission-reduction targets to 50-55 per cent by 2030, with a Climate Law committing to carbon neutrality by 2050. And it will impose new legislation on transport.
The reasons why the new commission has decided to define itself as a ‘geopolitical’ commission, while setting the green cause as a priority, are compelling: today, the green agenda is also a geopolitical instrument for Europe. It represents a lever to claim Europe as a global player which upholds international governance, based on co-operation, rules and dialogue.
This defence of multilateralism, essential to pursue a green agenda, is also the best riposte when the union is under siege from identity politics and electoral authoritarianism.
A shorter version of this article was originally published (in Spanish) by La Vanguardia on December 13th.