Time to Invest in a Healthy Future: Time for a Green and Just Recovery

20th April 2020
News Item

An Taisce wrote today to each of the 13 Irish MEPs to demand sustainable recovery investments.

While the immediate priority is to address the public health emergency, public stimulus packages are being developed to relaunch the economy. Given the monumental size of these investments, how we invest this money will determine whether we succeed or fail in the fight against climate breakdown, biodiversity loss, widespread pollution and inequality.

In our message, we explained that the EU and its governments must therefore demonstrate leadership and foresight by directing all public stimulus investments at accelerating the transition to a just, resilient and sustainable economy, and safeguarding the implementation of the European Green Deal.

Specifically, An Taisce, along with likeminded NGOs, EU governments, scientists and many private sector organisations, is calling for a taxonomy of sustainable practices to be agreed and to be considered suitable for recovery financing. This would presumably exclude carbon intensive industries such as aviation and intensive agriculture, for example.

In response, Clare Daly MEP said

Needless to say, I agree with everything in the statement outlined by An Taisce. These are actually a lot of the same points that we are making. Returning to "normal" would be completely wrong as normal is part of the problem and we do have a once in a lifetime opportunity now to get things right. The economy will need a strong kick start and that should only be done in a sustainable and socially responsible way. Rest assured we will be arguing this position at every turn.

Frances Fitzgerald MEP said

I agree with the sentiments expressed in your email... I truly believe that any economic recovery plan should be fully integrated with a green and sustainable economy. This is vital for the future of Europe and our planet. There is an opportunity to emerge from this crisis with a new and more equitable plan... The money Europe will reinvest in the economy must be consistent with the European Green Deal. This is not just for the sake of the environment but to also build greater resilience within our societies and economies. As mentioned in your email ‘a just transition for all’ should be at the heart of any such plan.

Meanwhile, Barry Andrews MEP had good news

My group Renew Europe proposed a resolution which was adopted by the European Parliament last week which set as a core priority for recovery that the Green Deal be adhered to.

But Fitzgerald went on to say

Through my work on the ECON Committee, I have already been in contact with European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis who has assured me that the main goals of the European Green Deal will remain in place despite the COVID-19 emergency, including the goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2050.

There is a lot of room for manoeuvre in the phrase “the main goals... will remain in place”, so we must remain vigilant. Fitzgerald added that the EU's taxonomy for sustainable finance will be established fully by the end of 2021, meaning it will come too late to have the impact we need on decisions taken now.

A spokesperson for Grace O'Sullivan said that she

will work towards this vision by advocating for increased action against climate change and biodiversity loss supported by a major green recovery fund, all the while keeping the principle of a just transition at the heart of the recovery... Grace and her fellow Green Party MEP, Ciarán Cuffe, were very happy to hear that Ireland joined the list of EU member states calling for a green recovery plan.

A spokesperson for Mick Wallace MEP said

Mick fully supports the demands in your email... Mick is a member of the Environment Committee in the EU Parliament and will certainly be calling for these demands to be met.

A spokesperson for Maria Walsh MEP said

I will say that after COVID-19 the EU will have to have discussions on what we need to adjust in the future. Like how we continue with the Green Deal, whether health policy should become more of an EU competency or at the very least whether our emergency responses need to be more connected and how we in Europe become less reliant on non-EU markets for certain supplies. Maria will partake in these discussions as much as she can, without being a member of the ENVI committee, to ensure that the protection of our environment and the reduction in CO2 and climate change emissions remain a priority for the European Parliament, throughout the recovery to 'business as usual'.

It's a kind of progress that politicians have moved past considering these changes unimaginable and they are now considering their feasibility instead.


Full Text of our message to MEPs, which was written in collaboration with groups across Europe and co-ordinated by the EUROPEAN FEDERATION FOR TRANSPORT AND ENVIRONMENT:

An Taisce calls upon you as an MEP to tackle the unprecedented crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic with unity, courage and innovation.

During this time of crisis, which is taking the lives of many and putting people's livelihoods at risk, it is essential that our leaders issue a strong response. We therefore welcome the plans to make substantial funds available to fight the health emergency, tackle unemployment, and support Europe’s small businesses, but more will be needed.

Millions of Europeans long for an end to the lockdown, to be reunited with our family and loved ones, and to get back to work. But we do not want a return to business as usual, to an economic model which has exacerbated social inequalities, jeopardised our health, and driven our planet’s climate and nature to the brink of collapse. Instead, we believe that now is the time to radically and rapidly make our economies greener, fairer, and more resilient to future shocks.

While the immediate priority is to address the public health emergency, public stimulus packages will have to be developed to relaunch the economy, create millions of jobs and support people - especially the most vulnerable - through this difficult time. How we respond to the crisis will determine whether we succeed or fail in the fight against climate change, the loss of nature, widespread pollution and inequality, and create health benefits for all. The EU and its governments must therefore demonstrate leadership and foresight by directing all public stimulus investments at accelerating the transition to a just, resilient and sustainable economy, boosting the European Green Deal to deliver even more.

We call upon political leaders to develop comprehensive EU and national Sustainable Recovery Plans. In particular, this means:

  • Step up policy action against climate change and biodiversity loss at EU, national and international level, by strengthening and continuing the implementation of the targets, strategies and laws announced in the European Green Deal;
  • In high-carbon and other potentially polluting sectors such as intensive agriculture, make support to companies conditional on their alignment with environmental and climate objectives. No bailouts should be given to unviable or polluting industries that have no future in tomorrow’s economy. State aid, loans, subsidies and other direct or indirect support to companies must come with strict conditions, monitored and enforced by the EU, and focus on sustainable initiatives and the creation of sustainable jobs;
  • The establishment of a sizable green recovery fund backed up by all available EU financial tools (including the MFF and its spending programmes, new funds, the use of the European Stability Mechanism and exploring so-called ‘eurobonds’), to finance the green and just recovery. These interventions must be based on established principles such as transparency, accountability and community-driven solutions.
  • Public and private investment throughout the recovery should be guided by the EU’s taxonomy to accelerate the shift from polluting into green sectors; similarly the European Investment Bank should bring its lending policies in line with the European Green Deal objectives by end 2020; In addition, sustainable finance policies should be accelerated and a taxonomy of unsustainable practices to be excluded agreed.
  • All recovery plans must put people’s wellbeing at the heart of the crisis response and deliver social benefits and protect workers’ rights through a ‘just transition for all’.

We support the many appeals for green recovery that have blossomed across Europe: By 13 EU governments, Members of the European Parliament, the Club of Rome, scientists, NGOs, 200 representatives from business and politics, energy companies, and many more. The European Council had also called on the EU to prepare an economic recovery plan that would integrate the green transition. To these voices we add ours.

Please do not let these calls go unanswered.

Kind regards, Stuart.

Stuart McCaul Hon. Secretary An Taisce - The National Trust for Ireland