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Environment Science

Is the European Union’s Green Deal as green as it seems?

Take a look at the European Union’s (EU) Green Deal Investment Plan, on the EU Commission’s website, with its promises of reducing carbon emissions, increasing global biodiversity and contributing to a circular economy, you may be pleasantly surprised by the steps it is taking in remedying the impacts of the Climate Crisis.

An item on the agenda of the United Nation’s (UN) Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP26), held this time next year in Glasgow, the Green Deal also strives to “transform the Union into a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy”.

There’s no denying it is an ambitious and indeed necessary strategy, but on closer inspection there arise some discontinuities between its proposed policies and current embedded importing regulations.

Commitments to the Paris agreement in 2015 have failed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally. It is estimated that there has in fact been an increase of four per cent.

If the EU hopes to be on track to become net-zero by 2050, and align to the Paris agreement’s target of keeping the global increase in temperature below 1.5°C, then it needs to start addressing its global environmental impact.

On analysis of the economic demands of the Green Deal, it is a stretch to consider it a so-called “green investment” with the present regulations within the EU agricultural trade.

Currently, only China, the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, relies more on agricultural imports than the EU. Over the last 18 months, the EU has invested close to half of its crop imports in the US, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.

These crops include oilseeds such as soya beans. In 2017 it was recorded that only 13 per cent of soya was confirmed to be grown on land not cleared for deforestation.

Following this discovery, a revised 2018 policy was enacted to mitigate the source of oilseeds, including soya beans, from being sourced from recently deforested land.

However, the importation of crops is seldom checked rigorously enough to meet apparently ‘strict’ sustainability regulations on arrival at European ports. External trade from the EU, it seems, follows a loose set of rules when it comes to environmental law, with many voluntary and others mandatory. Thus, a discontinuity exists between the initiatives outlined in the Green Deal and the EU’s current trading practices.

Other issues arise from implications of the proposed ‘farm to fork’ initiative. Aimed to reduce the continued use of fertiliser (by 20 per cent) and pesticides (by 50 per cent) in Europe, the initiative seeks to remedy the EU’s effects on global biodiversity.

Fertiliser and pesticide use contribute to the deterioration of dwindling soil fertility, as well as contributing to water and air pollution. On top of this, the effects of these chemicals create a detrimental impact on local and global biodiversity.

Despite its commitments to reducing its intercontinental use of pesticides in agriculture, the EU is still compliant in the decline of global biodiversity. The EU Commission stipulates that over the last 40 years, the global population of wild species has fallen by 60 per cent and one million species are at risk of extinction. Aims of establishing protected areas for at least 30 per cent of land and a matched percentage for sea areas in Europe will seek to remedy species populations closer to home.

However, the global impact of the EU stretches indirectly through its main overseas traders. For example, between 1990 and 2014, approximately 11 million hectares of land was deforested to grow crops for EU consumption.

This land, mostly linked to Brazil and Indonesia, holds rare areas of concentrated biodiversity and, when considering rainforest density, play a key role in sequestering carbon.

As the current Covid pandemic persists, the link between habitat loss and increased likelihood of global emerging infectious disease, from animals to humans, is brought to light.

Ongoing research endeavours to understand the modelling of infectious disease in wild species continues to move up the global agenda as new pathogens are understood.

The proposed cost, hoping to steadily roll in over the next decade, is at least one trillion euros with over half of this coming from the EU budget and nearly another €280 billion coming from the private sector encouraging companies to make strides in green investment.

These main areas of concern outlined above need to be considered when navigating this multifaceted strategy for mitigating the Climate Crisis.

It is clear that current imports under EU trade deals require revision if the Green Deal is to follow a ‘responsible’ path to net-zero by 2050.

Another important approach is to exercise effective leadership by encouraging China to comply with proposed climate commitments set to be discussed at the COP26 next year.

Furthermore, the EU would benefit from exploring research in indoor farming technology as there is much scope for development in this area.

Overall, despite the critical response, there is hope to be found in the EU’s somewhat forward-moving approach to tackling the Climate Crisis.

But if the EU hopes to make real progress, it needs to rethink and reform its lax import regulations, face up to its global impact on species’ extinction and realise that when it comes to the future of biodiversity, ignorance is not bliss.

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