GFAR blog

How the EU’s Green Deal survived the coronavirus pandemic

The threat of the pandemic actually helped push through the European Green Deal.

As March brought death and chaos to Europe, officials in the Cabinet of European Green Deal chief Frans Timmermans developed a pattern of working: crisis in the morning, recovery in the afternoon.

The Green Deal — the political project to make the EU climate neutral by 2050, launched in mid-December 2019 at the same time as the first cases of a mysterious pneumonic disease were appearing at hospitals in Wuhan, China — suddenly seemed under threat.

“Everybody was asking the question, was this going to kill things off?” said an EU official. “There were a few weeks, the first panic weeks, when everybody just thought, ‘How do we keep people alive and how do we keep the economy alive?’ And green just kind of dropped off the agenda.”

Yet last Friday — at the end of one of Europe’s darkest years, with more than 300,000 dead and an economy in a spiral — EU leaders clinched a deal to speed up emissions reductions this decade at a pace considered unthinkable even a year ago.

It has long been an article of political faith that economic crises are deadly for serious work to quell emissions. After the collapse of the Lehman Brothers investment bank in 2008 triggered a global financial meltdown, the world “didn’t have time for green hobbies,” according to a senior European Commission official involved in the Green Deal.

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