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EU's green transition is 'a marathon', says Environment Commissioner

EU's green transition is 'a marathon', says Environment Commissioner
Copyright euronews
Copyright euronews
By Gregoire Lory
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In this latest episode of the Global Conversation, we speak to Virginijus Sinkevičius about Europe's waning enthusiasm for greener policies.

Green Week is the European Union's annual opportunity to take stock of its climate policy. 

This year, the week of meetings and debates is taking place in an atmosphere where environmental objectives are being called into question. 

To discuss these challenges, Euronews met with the European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius.

Grégoire Lory, Euronews: The environmental priority seems to have taken a backseat when we hear the French president or the Belgian prime minister talking about a regulatory pause.

Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Commissioner for the Environment: "I think the French president, if you listen for the whole speech, that was a very good, good speech, and that was not really meant to, you know, go against any of the current proposals that are already put forward. 

"It's more of keeping a balanced approach and ensuring that we have the competitiveness of our businesses as the priority. And I can only reconfirm that was the Commission's position from the very beginning, that the Green Deal is not possible without having everyone on board. But we should not forget that there is not going to be a peace treaty as regards [to] climate change or biodiversity loss. And these crises and their consequences are already putting a huge toll on our life as regards [to] food insecurity, as regards [to] floods or droughts, which not only costs a living for European citizens but also human lives. And of course, we need to prevent such disasters of scaling up across Europe."

Grégoire Lory, Euronews: Isn't this pause what people want to hear because they don't see in their daily lives the effects of these green policies and they have other concerns?

Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Commissioner for the Environment: "It's always easier to spot the immediate crisis. Such as a war which now [is] ongoing in Ukraine for more than a year. You have a clear image. With, for example, the degradation of our soil, it's much more difficult to see it. Most likely the first ones to see, to understand are our farmers that have to deal with soil every day and who depend on soil fertility directly. But still, we as politicians, if we are responsible, we have to take future-oriented decisions. We cannot be jumping only on those topics that society is at this moment voicing up.

"If you return to 2019, across all political parties, everyone was in the race for the Green Deal. Who is even more ambitious? Today, this voice is diminishing. But the climate crisis or biodiversity loss or pollution pressures, they didn't go anywhere. Such policies and a change that we are now doing as regards our economy, as regards our energy transition, transport and so on, this is a marathon, despite the pressures from outside."

Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and FisheriesEuronews

Grégoire Lory, Euronews: Are the Member states still involved? And what about the Parliament? Because the centre-right is asking for a moratorium (on several important texts of the Green Deal). Is there still a majority in favour of environmental policy?

Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Commissioner for the Environment: "So of course, first of all, member states, of course, are fully involved. Same I see with the parliament. Yes, you always have voices, that's the beauty of democracy and the Parliament. But overall, you have to look if the work is going forward, then I can see that the work is going forward. I always wanted to go faster ahead. So we need to ensure that we are ready, that we are fit for tomorrow that looks gloomy. 

"And first of all, it looks gloomy to those economic actors that are directly dependent on ecosystems: our farmers, our fishers, our foresters. 50% of the world's GDP is actually connected to ecosystems. I know it's something that we take for granted, but at some point, if we lose it, there is not going to be a technology that can successfully replace it."

Grégoire Lory, Euronews: Is the ongoing war in Ukraine putting pressure on the ambition and investment in favour of green policies?

Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Commissioner for the Environment: "I would say you have to probably split it into two parts. On the one hand, it had a very positive effect on our energy policies. So all our goals on renewable energy, our work as regards the package of REpowerEU, of developing renewable projects as being adopted with astonishing speed. And it really showed that this uncertainty and increased energy prices, they pushed us to look for alternatives that would allow us not [to] be dependent on uncertain, undemocratic regimes. 

"Now, when it comes to biodiversity policies, I can only reassure you that we don't want foresters out of the forest or we don't want fishers off the sea or farmers not working the land. On the contrary, we want them to do it for many, many years to come in a way that it's rewarding for them, that it's profitable in a way that is not damaging to the ecosystem. So that we ensure long-term sustainability."

Grégoire Lory, Euronews: Will all the text be concluded before the end of the mandate?

Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Commissioner for the Environment: "If you look at the files that I'm in charge of: [the] circular economy, environmental files, I am optimistic that we are moving ahead swiftly and I hope that we can successfully conclude. As I said, we need it. We need [it] to maintain our leadership position globally. We need it because we were the leading force behind the global agreements and we need it to secure a deliverable future for the generations to come.

Grégoire Lory, Euronews: In this difficult context, what are the achievements that are set in stone and that will affect the citizens?

Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Commissioner for the Environment: "I think, first of all, you know, we've done a tremendous work as regards [to] the climate package and “Fit for 55” package, which is almost done. And that's a great achievement. We have put forward already all the policies that are key policies as regards the circular economy and really moving from the linear model to a more circular model. And I'm very happy that co-legislators are very supportive. 

"And if you look at the product policy after this mandate, it will be unrecognisable, on all the changes that we have put forward. And I'm very proud of it. I'm happy that we managed early on to conclude our file on the batteries. We see that battery production by 2030 will increase 14-fold. So there are a number of great achievements. But as [I] said, when we talk about the Green Deal, it's a complex horizontal change. It's not one single initiative that can be called a Green Deal. And we still have a lot of work ahead of us."

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