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Coronavirus: climate change hasn't disappeared with the pandemic

COP23 United Nations Climate Change Conference
COP23 United Nations Climate Change Conference Copyright INA FASSBENDER/EU
By Greg Lory, Joanna Gill
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Brussels insists the Green Deal must remain a pivotal policy, as EU leaders barter over how the finance the economic recovery.


Coronavirus has brought Europe to a standstill, but the bloc was already facing another crisis - climate change. And that's still a growing concern, perhaps even more now. 

While the lockdown has seen carbon emissions slashed, plans to save the economy could put a dent in the bloc’s sacred Green Deal. 

European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans took to Twitter to insist that the EU must live up to its green goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

His is a position supported by MEPs working on environmental issues.

“Climate change hasn’t disappeared with the advent of COVID-19. So on the contrary, we must kill two birds with one stone to revive the economy," explains Pascal Canfin, chair of the Environment Committee at the European Parliament. "We need to do it from an economic and employment point of view, but to do it in a way that supports those sectors which are providing solutions to the climate crisis."

French MEP Canfin (RENEW party) says 300 billion euros of public investment is needed over two years in order to support a green recovery.

But one spanner in the works is Europe's powerful car industry. Automobile manufacturers insist they want to play its part in the green transition, but the priority is the survival of the sector in Europe.

"If we're not surviving then I think there is a risk, if the European automative market is not surviving then you will get an influx from probably more polluting cars from the US or China or Asia and that the last thing we should allow for," sats Mark Huitema, Director General European Automobile Manufacturers' Association – ACEA. Huitema says the industry should work alongside Timmermans on the "right steps to make Europe as well as the European automotive industry stronger again".

Europe’s financial rescue package should amount to around 500 billion euros. The funds could be raised from the next EU budget or Multi-Annual Financial Framework also know as the MFF - but EU leaders had left the budget issue on ice before the pandemic hit. So could the health crisis act to focus minds ahead of the EU summit this Thursday?

"An ambitious MFF would be one that wasn't restrained as it has been recently by a kind of austerity overhang, if I can put like that," says Ronan Palmer, head of clean energy programme, E3G. Palmer suggests that Europe considers carefully where it puts its money and to break the current gridlock, saying "in a time of crisis it's not a time to be frugal."

EU leaders will meet via videoconference on Thursday April 23 to discuss the financial rescue. Environmentalists hope that the Green ambitions that had been widely supported before the pandemic don't become another casualty of the financial fallout.

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