Notwithstanding the Covid-19 pandemic and its tragic impacts, the key challenge for the next few years for climate change and the environment is to align international policies in a common process of concertation to enable countries to recover from recession while building a sustainable and functioning economy and a zero-carbon and climate neutral environment.
The EU institutions have been able to keep their sustainable finance programme on track throughout the Covid-19 pandemic although there have been some notable and largely political blockages. Nevertheless, the EU has an opportunity to set the global standard on sustainable finance regulation, provide a model for replication in other regions, and help to create a forward global momentum towards the achievement of the Paris Agreement and net-zero targets even ahead of time.
In terms of action and implementation, however, little of substance has changed – at least partly because little of substance has yet commenced. Hopes of any progress this year are not high given the poor performance and stewardship record of the UK government on this issue since the last General Election in 2019. Its rhetoric is now far beyond its actions. Covid-19 has dealt European economies a severe blow, but the EU has so far mostly been resilient and consistent in its determination to proceed with the larger challenge of resisting and reversing climate change even as the urgencies of overcoming the pandemic are addressed and the damaging impacts of Brexit are increasingly confined to an ‘independent’ UK.
The common challenge remains and the commitments have not been reversed. Indeed, the Covid-19 response has uncovered new pathways and arguments for urgent action on public health priorities. Nevertheless, for the moment, the only foreseeable changes to the commitments in climate finance generally are likely to be those of emphasis and timing, priority, and pace. The content, the reasoning and the basic policies remain and may now be more robust while the dialogue remains confident. The taxonomy of appropriate climate financing continues to be built.
The recovery strategy applies to the economy and to the environment. One cannot be restored without a corresponding revival in the other. They are, for now, two sides of the same coin. The example offered by the Covid-19 response throughout Europe, that ‘whatever it takes’ must be invested in resolving a problem that threatens people’s health and livelihoods, has already provided inspiration for those battling an even deadlier but longer drawn-out global public health crisis in the form of unmitigated climate change. The task now is to ensure that governments understand that the urgencies of protecting its population in respect of climate change are as pressing and as vital as they were in respect of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Europe has a unique opportunity over the next decade to maintain responsible global leadership in a progressive and transformative global agenda for decisive climate action globally. In short, Europe can show other regions how to harness the opportunities of sustainable finance effectively and sensibly after more than a year in which other regions temporarily lost ground and momentum.