In recent weeks we have heard increasingly about the Green Deal for Europe with which the new European Commission has introduced itself, as a way of responding to the protests of young people and others throughout society who are demanding concrete actions instead of rivers of words. The person responsible is Commissioner Frans Timmermans.
Until now environmental questions had been blocked by the previous Commission. Now we are seeing a revitalization of the EU’s structures on this subject in the light of preparation for the Green Deal. But what does this consist of?
We can find out by reading the document that was presented officially on 11.12.2019 which is available in English, French and German on the European Commission’s site (Bruxelles, COM(2019) 640 final). It is a list of good intentions and fine words, with descriptions of “frenetic” activities to be carried out between 2020 and 2021 to prepare plans, directives, and legislation. The Commission presents this document as a roadmap to be carried out with citizens, civil society, member states and states outside the EU.
The first page is very encouraging! It marks a systemic change from the Commission of the last 5 years:
“This strategy also aims to protect, conserve and enhance the EU’s natural capital, and protect the health and well-being of citizens from environment-related risks and impacts. At the same time, this transition must be just and inclusive.”
“A new pact is needed to bring together citizens in all their diversity, with national, regional, local authorities, civil society and industry working closely with the EU’s institutions and consultative bodies.”
“This upfront investment is also an opportunity to put Europe firmly on a new path of sustainable and inclusive growth.”
The graphic that summarizes the Pact’s scheme is clear, simple and transparent. We know what to do and we can do it!
From the point of view of those concerned with the soil, we note that the document contains the words soil, terrain and land. Although there is no specific “section” dedicated to it, the subject is touched on in various contexts, in particular in the sections on the production of healthy food, the elimination of pollution, carbon storage, reduction of the use of pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, regulation of the emissions trading system, preservation and protection of biodiversity, and so on.
So can we finally be satisfied? Not really! If we continue to read the text it seems that we find content that was already there in the past. Words which were not followed by deeds. On the other hand, following a period of stasis it is necessary to look again at what was decided on but not put into action. For the soil, there is no clear indication of its importance for and in ecosystems; and therefore of a recognition of its fragility, of the importance and urgency of the need to preserve its fertility for future generations. Furthermore there is nothing in the document about the need for a European Directive on the soil.
The sections on “construction” and “mobility” seem positive, because they stress the importance of recovery, restoration and rationalization. What is lacking, unfortunately, is the recognition of the immediate need to halt the sealing of fertile soil.
In short, there is a chink of light, but what is proposed continues to be possibilist solutions in the context of the existing economy … in other words, people are recognizing that the emperor has no clothes, but not that the house is burning down, even though millions of young people are shouting ‘fire’ in every public space. As usual, there is an attempt to have our cake and eat it: even though the fire has already destroyed the roof, we are worrying about moving the furniture on the first floor, or how to replace it with more portable versions. No one starts from the principle that the “furniture” we need to replace is what has led to the current crisis. As the young people repeatedly tell us, we need solutions that reduce consumption and production. The hope that real or virtual technology will allow us to resolve environmental problems is not just faint but dangerous, because it takes away responsibility and perpetuates unrealistic hopes.
Today, in order to respond to what the younger generations are telling us, we can no longer be satisfied with a “possibilist” Deal. The “chink” must be forced, enlarged, opened wide, and this initial official document must be improved, changed, clarified. Unfortunately, the weight of this possibility is once again placed on the shoulders of civil society and the younger generation, given that governments and politicians are still procrastinating about breaking the system that is destroying the world. Proof comes yet again from the outcome of the Madrid COP 25 which once again failed to accept the urgent need for change. In short, civil society – that is, us – will have to keep up the constant pressure in order to shift the status quo which for years has been increasing the problems connected to climate change. On our side is the fact that everyone, including the deniers, can now see the reality of climate change.
To sum up, we regard it as a positive thing that the Commission of Ursula Von der Leyen has tossed a pebble into the pond, by setting the date for the approval of European legislation on the climate at March 2020. The plans, actions and documents announced for 2020 and 2021 are equally positive. Now, however, we must roll up our sleeves and make sure that we join the young people who are protesting in the streets and become participants in this epochal change.