On 12 May the ELP Fellows had the opportunity to listen to Janez Potočnik and discuss an interesting and solid review of the European Green Deal; its advantages and missing considerations in the challenging times.

About the speaker

ELP’s distinguished lecturer, Slovenian politician, served as a former European Commissioner for Environment from 2009 until 2014 and also co-chaired the International Resource Panel (IRP) at the United Nations Environment Programme since 2014. Additionally, he holds other positions of importance, besides the fact that he headed the negotiating team for the Accession of Slovenia to the EU between 1998 and 2004. Since 2019 he is President of the Think Forest Forum, has been President of the long-term vision for the Balkans sub-region of the Mediterranean Biodiversity Hotspot in Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), and Member of the Steering Committee in ‘A vision for Europe towards a sustainable and circular economy’.

Potočnik is convinced that the management of natural resources must play an important role in the urgent attempt of creating a truly sustainable economic and social model.

Before the COVID-19 crisis, Potočnik has been sure how for the first time in the thousands of years of our history, humankind has reached a critical point where failures that are making can no longer be solved or contained locally, and that demand some different understanding and reactions. He has been convinced how our actions and system have to be strongly checked because the indigenous communities will be affected the most, so a man has to understand the intercoupling of social, economic, and environmental problems as soon as possible. The pandemic showed how that can not be delayed anymore.

Climate-neutral EU by 2050 is becoming a law

Janez Potočnik gave his short overview of the analyses how well is European Green Deal in the broadest sense addressing the essential challenges of the unsustainable use of natural resources and environmental sinks, that are limiting factors of human wellbeing and economic development according to the UN International Resource Panel and Club of Roma.

He has tried to present all relevant documents connected with the European Green Deal, because that term assumes: Annual Sustainable Growth Strategy 2020, Climate Pact, A New Industrial Strategy for Europe, Circular Economy Action Plan 2020, Shaping Europe’s Digital Future, White Paper on Artificial Intelligence, A European Strategy for Data, Farm to Fork, Biodiversity Strategy, and many more existing documents and to come.

The European Green Deal is not a perfect approach, although it is a good one. Potočnik has shown in this regard several levels at which the initiative needs to be improved and updated. Sustainability should be a new investment standard and a goal of the European Union as a global leader in sustainable investment with a significant distribution of capital.

Based on the Circular Economy, the European Green Deal is looking at the decoupled economic growth from resource use and environmental impacts, as a part of a larger picture of economic, societal and cultural transformation. The important attention is given to social consideration of the transition, and the recent crisis has shown how neglecting vulnerable groups of people and those unable to accept and implement some principles, can be sensitive for society in general. The European Green Deal lacks a greater commitment to changing the way growth, well-being and progress are measured. The new growth strategy aims to transform the European Union into a fair and prosperous society with a modern, competitive and resource-efficient economy, without net emissions of greenhouse gases in 2050 and with decoupled economic growth from resource use.

Potočnik emphasized that the European Green Deal is a huge step forward, but at the same time, he wanted to be clear that there are some gaps. There is one between the strategic vision for necessary systemic changes and specific policy chapters that followed, and the ambition set in the opening document. The certain inconsistency lies in the fact that the existing Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) has been created by the former European Commission with the lack of a significant urgency for climate change. Understanding, narrative and initiatives are different in the financial proposal that should be set till 2027 and there are no other budgets on the EU level to deliver Parish and Sustainable Development Goals’ commitments. This crisis has changed the goals from the MFF and hopefully, the future will show commitment towards just, sustainable and human-oriented clean politics.

Urgent just recovery and comprehensive approach

It seems more than ever evident, that Laudato Si’ is a great response to several disadvantages of the European Green Deal, because in the Encyclical Letter Pope Francis has expressed his concern for the future of the “mother earth” and offered to us the guidance for the comprehensive, multilevel and constructive responds. He stresses the message of justice and solidarity in the challenging time and he made us aware of the interconnectedness in the rethinking of the global economic system. Global, national and local stakeholders and policymakers should try to find possible sustainable pathways to overcome an environmental, economic, social and spiritual crisis that calls for the commitment of different expertise (political, economic, religious, health, social, etc.) 

We should learn some lessons from the experience with COVID-19 and one of them is that we are more than ever interdependent and interconnected. Potočnik explained how this example calls for more sharing of the sovereignty and more than ever-increasing of multilevel cooperation so that we should rethink precautionary principles written in the treaties and put some in a practice and save some jobs and change some dangerous consequences of the pandemic.

He also emphasized that this crisis seems to be a great chance for the recovery and different ways for investment and keeping the focus on the European Green Deal. It is important to remember that economic growth is significant while working for the people and for the planet, concerns limited natural resources, ensures job creation and lasting prosperity for the future. The new growth strategy has to take into account: environment, macroeconomic stability, productivity, and fairness. There is also a big need for the balance of globalization that calls for shared responsibility and the fact of how important are local authentic actions and values without which there are no improvements.

Recovery and awareness of sustainability are new leading goals along with required growth, recognition of the social gaps, inequalities in incomes, and access to basic services.  The solidarity and coherence in policies that we will be able to implement are more than ever urgent. A just transition allows human flourishing without destroying the planet and infringing upon human rights.

Slađana Lovrić
ELP Fellow 3rd Cohort