EU Green Deal shamed as bloc ‘offshores environmental damage to other nations’

EU: Ursula von der Leyen's Green Deal slammed by Donato

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World leaders have mostly left Glasgow’s COP26 climate summit after striking a range of agreements on reducing carbon emissions and other elements of human-induced climate change. More than 100 countries promised to end and reverse deforestation by 2030, while a number of leaders joined an initiative led by the US and EU to cut emissions of methane by at least 30 percent by 2030. China, Russia and India were not among the names on the list.

India did, however, pledge to reach net zero emissions by 2070 — ending its position as one of the last major economies in the world to hold out on such a commitment.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced a €1billion (£846million) contribution to the Global Forests Finance Pledge.

The five-year support package looks to help partner countries protect, restore and sustainably manage forests worldwide and deliver on the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Last year, the EU threw its weight behind the climate debate after announcing its ambitious Green Deal which was at the heart of its coronavirus pandemic recovery plan, and doubled up as a step towards federalism.

While the announced figure to help the cause was put at €750bn (£637bn), the European Commission said the real figure would be almost €2trillion (£1.7tn) after spending from future budgets was added in.

Many hailed the plans as outlining what the future looked like, with Ms von der Leyen declaring: “This is Europe’s moment.”

Yet, others were less convinced.

Richard Fuchs, Calum Brown and Mark Rounsevell, three scientists writing in a report for the science journal Nature, claimed that: “Europe’s Green Deal offshores environmental damage to other nations.”

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They focused on the element of the deal which saw millions of tonnes of crops and meat imported into the bloc each year.

This is part of the bloc’s efforts to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050, setting targets to reduce carbon emissions and enhance forests, farming, green transport, recycling and renewable energy — all of which Ms von der Leyen said will help the EU show “the rest of the world how to be sustainable and competitive”.

But, the authors said: “Problems lurk behind the rhetoric.”

The EU relies heavily on agricultural imports, only China imports more, with the EU in 2019 buying one-fifth of the crops and one percent of the meat and dairy products consumed within its borders.

This allows Europeans to farm less intensively, but “the imports come from countries with environmental laws that are less strict than those in Europe. And EU trade agreements do not require imports to be produced sustainably.”

The October 2020 paper notes the various deals the EU has signed in the past two years with countries and trade blocs around the world, which have covered nearly half of its crop imports.

The authors write: “The net result? EU member states are outsourcing environmental damage to other countries, while taking the credit for green policies at home.

“Although the EU acknowledges that some new legislation will be required around trade, in the short term, nothing will change under the Green Deal.”

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Between 1990 and 2014, European forests expanded by nine percent, an area roughly equivalent to the size of Greece, some 13 million hectares (Mha).

Elsewhere around the world, however, some 11 Mha was deforested to grow crops that were consumed within the EU.

And, three-quarters of this deforestation was linked to oilseed production in Brazil and Indonesia.

These are regions of the planet that hold unparalleled biodiversity and are home to some of the world’s largest carbon sinks — crucial for mitigating climate change.

The paper goes on to note the various transformations that will take place within European agriculture under the deal: “A ‘farm to fork’ initiative aims to reduce fertiliser use in Europe by 20 percent and pesticides by 50 percent, with one-quarter of land to be farmed organically by 2030.

“The EU plans to plant three billion trees, restore 25,000 kilometres of rivers and reverse the decline of pollinators.”

Yet, no parallel targets have been set for external trade.

Some rules apply for incoming agricultural produce; things like soya beans must not be sourced from recently deforested land.

But, the authors write: “Customs departments don’t have the mechanisms, money or staff to check that goods meet sustainability criteria when they arrive at European ports.

“EU trade agreements are silent about which specific standards imports must meet, or whether exporting countries should have adequate environmental laws or monitoring.

“Signatories to the EU–Mercosur pact, for example, agree only to ‘strive’ to improve their environmental and labour-protection laws.”

The paper goes on to highlight a number of other “double standards” between the EU’s Green Deal and its dealings with other nations, including on things like GM crops.

Meanwhile, Ms von der Leyen, speaking at COP26, said countries must put a price on the carbon dioxide emissions causing climate change.

She said: “We need to agree to a robust framework of rules, for example, to make global carbon markets a reality. Put a price on carbon, nature cannot pay that price anymore.”

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