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Navigating the future of the Green Deal: insights from the Time ToBe Bloming Webinar series

Article written by Cristina Sanz Rutherford - Communication, Policy and Membership Intern

The second session of the Time ToBe Blooming webinar series, which took place on 23 April, delved into the future of the Green Deal amidst multiple crises and contemporary political dynamics.

In this context, and in light of the upcoming European elections, encounters that explore such issues are of vital importance. For this session, entitled “A Skip towards Europe: Discussion on the EU Green Deal and upcoming Elections”, we welcomed two experts in the field: Éloi Laurent, Senior Research Fellow at OFCE and Professor at Sciences Po, and Simon Dekeyrel, policy analyst in the Sustainable Prosperity for Europe Programme at European Policy Centre.

While both agreed that the Green Deal is facing obstacles, the nature of these as well as the future of the Deal were debated. In this sense, while acknowledging that steps need to be taken to ensure that the Green Deal is adapted to current needs, Laurent began the conversation by questioning the emerging idea that the Green Deal is facing imminent danger and risking being dismantled. He argued that while the Green Deal has encountered several setbacks, such as its announcement amidst the COVID-19 pandemic or the Russian invasion spiking inflation, it has proved resilient in the face of adversity. However, he warned against the rising tide of anti-environmental populism, which poses a major threat to environmental policy in the EU.

In this sense, he explained that the arguments supporting anti-environmental populism are twofold; on the one hand, portraying the environmental emergency as inferior to the identity crisis and, on the other hand, framing the social emergency as incompatible with the environmental one. Nonetheless, contrary to this discourse, he argued that both are key priorities for EU citizens and that in fact, “a huge majority of EU citizens support a green transition, provided that this transition is fair”. And herein lies the main question: how to articulate the ecological transition with social justice, or how to turn it into a social-ecological transition? Certainly, these are also key questions at the heart of the ToBe project - how to reconcile human wellbeing with ecological sustainability?

The need to reconcile environmental imperatives with social justice was Laurent’s central argument throughout the session. Rather than compensating detrimental environmental policies with social measures, Laurent advocated for an integrated approach that anticipates and addresses the social impacts of environmental transitions from the outset. However, this does not mean starting from a tabula rasa. Acknowledging what has been achieved so far in the framework of the Green Deal, Laurent stressed the need to add a new social layer to it, achieving what would become a ‘Social Green Deal, in a more inclusive and coherent framework.

In the same vein as Laurent, Dekeyrel echoed Laurent's words by arguing that the integration of social considerations into the Green Deal is crucial, but also advocating for a strong policy framework that integrates sustainability objectives across sectors and crisis scenarios. Drawing from the findings of a discussion paper on “The Green Deal in times of polycrisis”, Dekeyrel underscored the importance of aligning short-term crisis responses with the long-term objectives of the Green Deal. While they both agreed on the importance of incorporating societal needs into the current framework, Dekeyrel did not share Laurent’s optimistic vision for the future of the Green Deal, as he did not consider the green backlash among EU citizens as “the only challenge for the Green Deal during the next political cycle”.

Indeed, he stated that there are now competing concerns regarding economic and military security, which clash with the environmental objectives set out in the Green Deal. For instance, he mentioned that in the case of economic security, the EU is currently decoupling from Russian energy supplies, meaning that we need to invest in a new infrastructure, which complicates the complete phase out of fossil fuels in the short-term. As for defence, there’s now a broad consensus that the EU MS need to invest in their militaries, but with the scarce resources, he warned, “this results in less financing for the green transition. So, there are clear trade-offs, and these come in addition to the green backlash, which I think means a much more challenging environment for the Green Deal going forward”.

In order to align short-term crisis responses with the long-term environmental objectives, key EU policy recommendations outlined by Dekeyrel included leveraging EU leadership to adopt a Green Deal contingency plan, ensuring inclusiveness through strategic communication and dialogues, and reinforcing capacities by mobilising funds from other sources.

In conclusion, Laurent and Dekeyrel led a fruitful discussion, in which, despite diverging views on possible future scenarios, the importance of adopting a holistic approach that prioritises social justice and environmental sustainability was underlined. The webinar concluded with the need for coordinated efforts to address the challenges ahead, arising from social and political commitment. By adopting a socio-ecological approach and aligning short-term crisis responses with long-term sustainability goals, the EU can chart a path towards a greener, fairer, more inclusive, and prosperous future for all.

If you missed the session and are interested in getting more insights from the discussion, you may watch the recording here.

We invite you to register here to the next webinar on  29 May 2024 (14:00-15:30h CEST), where we will delve into some local examples of the Global North and South when it comes to sustainable wellbeing.