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COVID-19 and the European recovery: Transition to a green normal or return to the old normal?

16 July 2020 Britta Daum

Under the European Green Deal presented in December 2019, the European Union is seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by 50-55% by 2030 over 1990 levels by targeting a wide range of policy areas, ranging from clean energy to biodiversity.1 The ultimate aim is to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 and leadership in international climate policy; to enshrine these targets, the Commission proposed the EU Climate Law in March 2020\

Given that the road, rail, aviation, and maritime segments account for more than 25% of the bloc's total emissions, this represents both new opportunities and new challenges for the transport sector.1 All the more so as there are significant discrepancies or differences across the European Union with regard to implementation of EU transport policies, and also in view of the current coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis.

Key implications

  • The European Commission presented the European Green Deal in December 2019, followed by the European Union's first-ever climate law in March 2020.2 In this context, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis represents both a threat and an opportunity for the energy transition; but no matter what the outcome, it is without a doubt an important test case for European climate policies.
  • The current situation may jeopardize years of climate negotiations, or it may provide a window of opportunity for policymakers to pave the way to a sustainable economic recovery. So far, old patterns and alliances have been confirmed—those countries that were already supporters of green climate action prior to the crisis are pushing for a greener recovery, while those that are pushing back against green recovery were already climate skeptics.
  • Moreover, the pandemic also reinforced existing trends; i.e., it accelerated climate action in climate-conscious countries and slowed down climate action in less climate-conscious countries. However, dynamics may evolve, and those countries that seem to lag behind today may drive change tomorrow, depending on their individual economic recovery and societal change.
  • At the civil society level, it comes down to one question: will societies take this crisis as an opportunity to loosen regulatory mandates, or will they pressure governments and the European Union to accelerate the transition toward sustainable mobility and clean energy?

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