As we point out in the iePEDIA section of this issue of irish environment, the term “Green New Deal” generally refers to efforts to reduce the impacts from climate heating or breakdown by eliminating reliance on fossil fuels. The phrase “new deal” harkens back to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s extensive program to transform the US economy in the aftermath of the Great Depression.
The term can refer to just a general goal to transform an economy to one based on sustainable resources, instead of fossil fuels; or to a set of principles for guiding a society toward a renewable energy economy; or to a detailed set of targets and projects to reduce greenhouse gases and ameliorate the effects of climate breakdown, and to erase economic inequalities and racial injustice at the same time. The latter is exemplified by the recent Green New Deal introduced in the US Congress by the Democrats.
Here we will cover a version of a Green New Deal (GND) for Europe, which falls into the category of a set of principles, or what are referred to as “pillars”. As the authors note, not every plan to address climate breakdown or environmental risks constitutes a GND. To qualify as a GND, the environmental policies “must transform, creating an economy that is more prosperous, more just, and more sustainable than ever before.”
The 10 Pillars show us the broad transformations necessary to address the climate breakdown, and then we will have to imagine ways to effectuate these transformations. It is a start.
The first Pillar is fundamental to the challenges of climate breakdown: We must limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. This pillar demands the more ambitious target of a 1.5 degree limit on climate change, rather than a 2 degree rise, and it is increasingly recognized that even a 1.5 rise creates significant risks. To reach this target the plan requires investing at least 5% of Europe’s GDP in a transition to renewable energy .
The second Pillar demands that public institutions lead the economic and ecological transformations that are necessary. The burden cannot be pushed onto the shoulders of working families. The only specific action included is for the European Investment bank to issue green investment bonds. At the same time, the third pillar calls for an empowerment of citizens and communities to shape the decisions in these transformations. It argues that the GND cannot be a top-down initiative. The plan relies on proactive involvement of citizen assemblies and local governments. The Citizens’ Assembly in Ireland is an impressive example of the former.
There exists a clear tension between demanding the public institutions lead the GND and the demand that it not be top down. The plan does not discuss how this tension is going to be dealt with. Nor does the plan point out what role private businesses and industries should play.
In the 4th and 5th Pillars the plan calls for the creation of “decent” jobs for all, which will raise the standard of living of all communities. As part of its employment initiatives, the GND calls for implementing a “just transition,” which generally means providing retraining and other employment support for those who work in jobs in the “high carbon” industries, e.g., coal miners. The plan notes that calling for carbon taxes and economic incentives is not enough. Jobs must be created.
But jobs alone will not suffice to raise the standard of living. Beyond employment the plan calls for investments in education, health and carbon-neutral housing, as well as smart energy grids, clean air and water, and reduced working hours. It is indeed an ambitious plan.
Pillars 6, 7, and 8 address the larger economic issues implicated by the GND, including greater social and economic equality, future investments, and a call for rejecting endless growth as the primary measure of progress or well-being. These aspects of the plan call for making sure that public investments build public wealth, presumably, for instance, by returning revenue from carbon taxes to the public. It also supports more public investment in research and development of new technologies that will drive the transformation to a renewable society. The benefits of that work should be reinvested in more innovation in decarbonizing or other public projects. As endless economic growth is a major adverse influence on our environmental crisis, it needs to end, according to the plan. In a NGD, the environment, equality, health and happiness are the measures of well-being, not GDP.
Pillar 9 reaches beyond Europe to support climate justice around the world. As the environmental crisis is global, so too must be the efforts to combat it. Europe needs to stop exploiting the natural resources of developing countries and to insure that any green initiatives do not simply export the pollution to vulnerable countries. In addition, the global supply chain must be based on principles of environmental and social justice.
Finally, Pillar 10 calls for action now, not more agreements or treaties. It argues that all the talk about putting together agreements and treaties has not gotten us far, and that it is time to end negotiations and start taking actions. It demands specific credible measures to create just and sustainable societies.
The GDN for Europe ends with a clarion call for actions based on specific, credible measures. The plan’s strength is its impassioned demand for a transformation that creates sustainable economies based on renewable energy and just societies based on equality and well-being. The plan’s weakness is in its lack of the very specific, credible measures it demands.
But often before we can take actions, we need to imagine the possibilities opened by that action. The GND for Europe at its core is an act of imagination.
David Adler and Pawel Wargan, 10 Pillars of the New Green Deal for Europe. www.gndforeurope.com