On February 26th last, the High-Level Conference “Climate Change – New Economic Models” took place in the scope of the Portuguese EU Council Presidency. The Conference agrees with the priorities of the Presidency which focus on “fair, green and digital recovery” in combating the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting economic and social crises.

The High-Level Conference “Climate Change – New Economic Models”, hosted by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Action under the Portuguese EU Council Presidency was held on February 26th. It underscored the European commitment to become the first continent to reach carbon neutrality by 2050 through the European Green Deal. Besides the discussion on the reduction of carbon emissions, the Conference addressed topics such as bio-economy and circular economy as solutions to the current challenge of climate change and loss of biodiversity.

During the Conference, Prime Minister Costa reinforced the priority of the Portuguese Presidency to conclude the negotiations on the first European Climate Law and to promote the discussion on the EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change. As stated by António Costa, the Covid-19 pandemic demonstrates the urgency of “addressing the risks denounced by science and redesigning our development strategy.” Therefore, the answer to the crisis involves economic and social recovery that is also “disruptive to the models that have led us to the current state of environmental decadence”. The Minister of the Environment and Climate Action, João Pedro Matos Fernandes, stressed that to solve the problem of climate change and carbon emissions we must not “focus on energy alone”; it is necessary to abandon the “linear model of the economy” and address “new ways of producing, consuming, and using all the material goods that are at our disposal”. “Investing in sustainability is paramount for both improving the environmental conditions of the planet and fostering economic growth”, Matos Fernandes stated.

Thirty-four years after the first report that disseminated the concept of sustainable development, the Brundtland Report (“Our Common Future”) published by the World Commission on Environment and Development, the current scenario reminds us that the discussion should address, not only our common future, but also the present. For economic and social recovery to take place we must recognise that the current economic model has flaws in terms of the limitations of the available natural resources, which cannot be merely remedied, but must be prevented. More than just thinking about reducing and mitigating pollution, it is necessary to invest in the circularity of the economy, creating markets that break away from the linearity of consuming and disposing, and embrace products that can be, in the words of European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans, “produced, used, reused, recycled, and reused again”. The quest for clean energy is not enough. We need to “embrace circular and sustainable economy”, Timmermans underscored.

The pandemic crisis provides an opportunity to rethink our way of life and to submit more inclusive development models for a greener and fairer recovery. Meanwhile, this will only be possible once the benefits and opportunities of the green transition, such as economic growth, new jobs, scientific innovation, competitiveness and sustainability, reach all countries inside and outside the EU.

In early March, more than 30 civil society organisations signed an open letter addressed to the Portuguese Presidency calling for a fair and inclusive climate transition. The letter, that the Portuguese NGDO Platform also signed, made several recommendations under three main measures: i) ensuring greater – internal and external – coherence of EU policies, in accordance with commitments to the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development; ii) adopting a Climate Law for limiting global warming to 1.5°C, as recommended in the Paris climate agreement; iii) implementing a EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change that ensures EU preparedness and protection now and in the future.

The signatory organisations claimed further that the environmental recovery policies implemented in the post-Covid-19 period, such as the European Green Deal, should be aligned with the quest to reduce inequalities in the EU and the rest of the world. They also warned that meeting climate targets should not hinder access to the EU market for goods from emerging markets and that “while it is a positive step, the proposed Climate Law does not respond to the climate emergency and the need for more urgent action, as demanded by the scientific community and civil society.” In order to meet the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming, greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by “at least 65% by 2030, carbon neutrality must be achieved by 2040, and global action must be strengthened,” as stressed by the Letter’s signatory organisations.

The promotion of sustainable development should adopt an integrated approach, which takes into account the interdependence of the different dimensions of sustainable development, where environmental challenges are put into perspective against the backdrop of social-economic inequalities between and within countries. Concentrating most of the European and Portuguese cooperation partners, the relationship with the African continent is at the centre of the European Commission’s discussion on the green transition. It is crucial that the discussion analyse critically the current productive system and the power imbalance that accentuates the vulnerability of some countries and makes equal access to opportunities impossible. We must all strive to act in response to the climate emergency and the degradation of biodiversity. It is thus the EU’s duty to ensure that all development financing made available by it is compatible with climate action and the needs of its partner countries.

Under the challenge of securing the necessary financial means to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals set out in Agenda 2030, the focus is on the mobilisation of private investment. The EU-AU Business Forum on Green Investment is one of the events that the Portuguese Presidency of the EU Council plans to hold with that purpose also in mind. However, the discussion of the response to climate issues must address the social and economic impact of the approaches set, with policies guided by climate justice to ensure that the necessary conditions and legal framework are in place to prevent companies from damaging – contributing to damaging – the environment, and good governance of human rights and goods.

Watch the High-Level Conference “Climate Change – New Economic Models” here.

Read the letter of the civil society organisations to the Portuguese EU Council Presidency here.

This article was co-financed by the European Union. Its content is the sole responsibility of the Portuguese Platform of NGDOs and does not necessarily reflect the position of the European Union.

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