'We have lost time but not momentum' on climate goals, says EU's Environment Commissioner

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By Darren McCaffrey
The EU has been waging a war on single-use plastics for the last decade.
The EU has been waging a war on single-use plastics for the last decade.   -   Copyright  Matt Dunham/Associated Press

In a year when climate change was supposed to be front and centre, the coronavirus crisis has somewhat muted the green agenda but it has created opportunity too, according to the EU’s Environment Commissioner.

“We have lost some time but not the momentum... We will not be starting from the status quo, we will be starting from a profoundly different position," Virginijus Sinkevičius told Euronews. 

"Firstly because the crisis deepened our understanding of our reliance on the natural world. [The] pandemic is only increasing knowledge about the link between unsubstantial exploitation of nature and the risk of spread of infectious diseases.”

This year has seen an explosion in the use of plastics due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, while Europeans have all spent the last decade or so of trying to get off single-use plastics.

“I think we should use this crisis as an opportunity to build, back, better. And with that temporary increase of single use mask and gloves etc, we should move out of out very quickly and bounce back to the previous numbers and look for the ways to decrease them plastics," the Commissioner said.

Some environmental groups have levelled accusations that there has been a "green washing" of the Commission's climate goals, in particular that the environmental targets may be offset by exporting our carbon emissions elsewhere in the world.

"The European Green Deal is actually a unique example of joined up policy," explained Sinkevičius.

He added that, rather than addressing climate change with laws and pollution with merely targeted sectorial measures, it is actually "aiming for solutions that work for many different fronts and across multiple sectors horizontally."

A lot of changes will have to be made at EU level to reach the Commission's stated objective of carbon neutrality by 2050, but there will also need to be changes on an individual level to our daily habits, something the Commissioner told Euronews he has tried to do himself at home.

"First of all, I always start with my family, and of course as an example, we are not using masks which are not reusable," he said. "We getting rid of let's say single use plastics [they] are not in our house for many years, already and my children when they see, for example, someone using a straw, 'where did they get that straw from? It should be banned, isn’t it?'"