The EU and Sustainability
At the Prague European Summit I was invited to last week, sustainability was on the program three times. The most relevant session was Towards a More Sustainable and Prosperous European and Global Economy through Trade and Investments, pictured below.
I asked Panelists like Sabine Weyand, Director General for Trade at the European Commission, to define Sustainability. She defined it as actions the EU is taking, including mutually reinforcing Twin Transitions (Green and Digital) to foster a carbon-neutral EU by 2050 and the three pillars of sustainability, namely:
- 1st pillar is ‘climate and environment,
- 2nd, a zero carbon economy (including biodiversity), and
- 3rd, social sustainability (equity by member states and internationally).
These were followed by several panelists mentioning the issue of member countries needing to support and fund these. One would think that funding would be gratefully accepted and reciprocated given the astonishing €338bil the EU already spent across Europe, eight times the size of the Marshall Plan.
The panelists of these sessions sketched out ambitious plans. I researched this oft-promised “EU Green Deal” to understand its scale, if the sustainability of results (which I work on ex-post), the sustainability of our global ecology, and/or sustainability in terms of business functions resides, if at all. The results of this cursory research did not make these clear. But ambitions are massive.
EU Green Deal
The European Green Deal began when the EU Parliament adopted the EU Climate Law in 2021, which makes “legally binding a target of reducing emissions 55% by 2030 and climate neutrality by 2050. This moves the EU closer to its post-2050 objective of negative emissions and confirms its leadership in the global fight against climate change.”
SIDENOTE1: Given that our lawsuit against the Czech Republic government for not meeting its Paris Agreement commitments just failed and the Ministry of the Environment successfully claimed that reducing emissions by only 26% was enough (rather than the EU’s target of 55%), I wonder how much of these ‘legally binding’ targets will actually be met…
Turning to what I could find of the 1st and 2nd pillars (as the 3rd was missing from Green Deal online documents which I found other than mentions of a ‘Just Transition’):
- AID FUNDING (SDGs)
The EU as a leading global partner for the funding the SDGs & Paris Agreement
The EU seems to be shifting from the SDGs which appear to be bilaterally funded, although ‘collectively’ claimed. “The EU and its Member States are the leading donors of official development assistance (ODA) globally. In 2022, they collectively provided €92.8 billion (based on preliminary OECD figures), which accounts for 43% of global assistance.” So what progress is that generating? Not much:
SIDENOTE2: And since we’re talking about climate, can the EU or other donors aid-fund functioning weather stations? They have 5% of the number the US and EU do which massively limits mitigation: https://africanarguments.org/2023/11/without-warning-africa-lack-of-weather-stations-is-costing-lives/
- SUSTAINABLE FINANCE FOR CLIMATE, ENVIRONMENT, AND ECONOMY (the 1st 2 pillars of the mentioned Sustainability)
So, for the EU, where I now live most of the time, sustainable finance plans seem to be off to a good start. Nearly 2/3 of the promised €300 billion has been secured in only two years. Notably, this is 1/3 of the EU’s planned €1 Trillion, including private investments. Two German policy researchers, Findeisen and Mack, question their achievability. “Europe needs to spend an additional €350 billion on climate action every year until the end of this decade…to reach its 55% greenhouse gas reduction target by 2030.” Furthermore, “shortcomings of [Investment Plan] InvestEU in combatting climate change can be addressed and why it is no substitute for fresh public spending at EU level.” (See the excellent brief including concerns about the Sustainable Europe Investment Plan, outlined below. This overview of the EU’s Investment plan has broadly planned outputs (e.g., ambitions, financing, research, mobilizing), outcomes (e.g., energy generated, building new energy sources, restoring ecosystems, and building food systems and mobility), and impacts (e.g., a sustainable future):
Much of the plan is, understandably, European-focused, yet we all know that the Global South is where the deepest needs and opportunities lie. Drilling down further to see investments, activities, and even results on the ground was both interesting and harder:
“The inaugural milestone of the Global Gateway was the Africa-Europe Investment Package with approximately €150 billion of investment dedicated to bolstering cooperation with African partners. We have also started implementing Global Gateway in Asia and the Pacific and in Latin America and the Caribbean, where President von der Leyen announced a global investment by the EU and its Member States of over €45 billion. In 2023, ninety key projects were launched worldwide across the digital, energy, and transport sectors through Global Gateway to strengthen health, education, and research systems globally.”
So, as an Africanist and evaluative researcher, I looked into the EU’s reported figures (and results). Under Global Gateway, the EU has funded 33 projects in Sub-Saharan Africa, 11 of which are climate-related and another 7 that are transport-related. There are only short descriptions of projects without substantive partners, activities, or data, such as a €1billion “Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience in Africa“. Details would be instructive, to say the least. Research on African Voices regarding their projects unearthed one that should already be of concern: Namibia’s $10 billion Green Hydrogen project, which is to help 2.5 million people decarbonize. However, the tendering is not transparent, locals are in the dark, there are biodiversity concerns, and initial funding is missing. Much more transparent monitoring & evaluation data is needed to know it is on track.
I also consulted African Voices regarding COP28 that are relevant to the EU’s Africa investments.
- Funds are needed. Lorraine Chiponda. a Coordinator of the Africa Movement Building Space notes that “Africa receives a meager 3% of the total global climate finance and African countries still play a marginal role in the global finance system, making it a mammoth task to obtain funds for renewable energy investment.”
- Africa has much to offer. Joseph Nganga is Interim Managing Director at the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet (GEAPP) reminds us that “Africa, a region with a developing economy endowed with abundant natural resources, stands at a crossroads where strategic financial investments can steer its trajectory towards a prosperous climate-resilient future.”
- Moreover, financing needs are clearly expressed, which the EU, for one, should listen to. “This year at the African Climate Summit, countries were united in their call for a series of finance reforms that would have a meaningful impact on their fiscal and policy space to address climate change. These include a reduction in borrowing costs and risk premiums; debt management, restructuring and relief; scaling concessional climate finance from multilateral developments banks (MDBs); and reforms to the global tax regime.” Olivia Rumble is a climate change legal and policy expert and a director of Climate Legal
Much more is needed for equitable partnerships to address our increasingly desperate climate needs. While I was at the conference, the Copernicus Climate Change Service issued a warning that “For the first time ever, the planet globally exceeded a key warming threshold on Friday for the first time since at least the beginning of instrument records, new data shows. Simply put, a 2-degree rise in global temperatures was considered as a target for the end of the century and is considered a critical threshold above which dangerous and cascading effects will occur.” COP28 has a lot to accomplish.
Helpful? Let me know in the comments…