Melina Kerou on the “The Green and Social New Deal for Europe” policy plan released by the left fraction in the European Parliament GUE/NGL.
Find here the Towards A Green & Social New Deal For Europe policy plan of the GUE/NGL
The Green and Social New Deal for Europe outlines the demands of the European Left in order to achieve a socially just transition towards a sustainable future.
Crucially, the plan identifies that climate action and social and economic transformation must go together in order to stand a chance of success.
De-Carbonising the Energy Sector
Starting by proposing a steeper target for a 70% emissions reduction by 2030 and legally binding carbon neutrality and negative emissions by 2050, the policy plan quickly cuts to the chase: public ownership of all energy sectors and citizens’ participation to climate governance. This is the first and most important prerequisite for everything else, as it is the only way to ensure that the transition to a fully renewables-based energy system will not happen in a way that generates even more “growth” and profits for the industrial elites and more woes for the working class, but can be (although still not a given) a truly Just Transition, prioritizing the protection of Nature and the rights and needs of the people. The rest can then follow: affordable and accessible renewable energy with publicly regulated prices for all, free public transport, compliance with binding emissions targets, sustainable jobs, improved living and working conditions, public investment in novel and more efficient renewable energy, carbon capture and waste management technologies.
Companies vs. Climate
This will be immensely harder than it sounds, as the main enemy is identified already at the first page of the plan: the 20 fossil fuel companies that have contributed to almost 480bn tones of CO2 equivalent, or a third of all carbon emissions, since 1965 (1). One can add to that list the biggest five meat and dairy companies that together surpass the annual Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions of Exxon, Shell or BP (2), as well as the major agrochemical giants such as Bayer, producers of nitrogen-based fertilizers and pesticides and responsible for the majority of N2O emissions from agriculture (3).
The key for any proposed Climate Law would therefore lie in actually “taming” these industry giants, whose combined gross profits outnumber by far the EU budget allocated to climate action (4). Tellingly, the largest five stock-market listed companies (BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, Total) spend annually $200m for lobbying to delay or outright block climate action policies (5). This political leverage has so far enabled them to continue “business-as-usual” and save vast amounts on tax exemptions, while spending meagre amounts of their profits in fines and compensations according to the “polluter pays” dogma followed so far and the extremely problematic Emissions Trading scheme, and even less in research into renewables (4). Taking back control of the energy sector, one of the most lucrative sources of capitalist growth, cannot therefore happen without dismantling the neoliberal policies, regulations and treaties that form the backbone of the EU operations since the beginning. Tellingly, one of the demands of the Troika of EU institutions from austerity and crisis-striken countries like Greece is the deregulation and privatization of the national water and electricity sectors (6). This shapes up to be one of the biggest battles the Left faces.
Re-Imagining Agriculture and Food Production
A second overarching theme of the Green and Social New Deal for Europe from GUE/NGL as well as the EU-Green Deal is the need to radically transform the food production system. The proposed “Farm to Fork” strategy of the EU aims to redesign agriculture, fisheries and the respective distribution chains in a sustainable way, while also ensuring the livelihoods of farmers and fishermen. The underlying issues are numerous and complex: firstly, industrial-scale agriculture is responsible for 75% of the anthropogenic Nitrogen Oxide (N2O) emissions, a GHG with a global warming potential about 300 times higher than CO2, due to overfertilization with nitrogen-based fertilizers, a process also causing runoff nitrate pollution in groundwater horizons (3). A large percentage of the crops are grown for animal feed, in order to sustain our largely meet-heavy diets, which in turn are responsible for 25% of anthropogenic methane emissions from cattle (7). In addition, land use change from forests to agricultural land or pasture land is causing release of carbon from the soil.
While promoting organic, small-scale farming and animal welfare is laudable, the GUE/NGL plan touches briefly on a rather thorny issue: how to support the so-called “protein transition”. The hard fact is that the global preference for diets rich in animal proteins, together with the rate of human population growth, is unsustainable. Promoting healthy diets low in animal protein, consisting of affordable, locally sourced food in order to avoid the carbon footprint of transportation, produced without the excessive use of fertilizer or pesticides, as well as in general addressing the overproduction and overconsumption of food in the Western world, will be key challenges in the years to come. As expected, the main targets are those who are in control of the food production: the powerful meat and dairy industry, the agrochemical giants responsible for the production of fertilizers and pesticides, and food distribution monopolies. Considering the failure of the recent EU-wide campaigns to regulate the controversial glyphosate-based herbicide produced by Monsanto (now owned by Bayer) on an EU-wide level, this will not be easy.
A complementary topic correctly identified by the GUE/NGL plan is the need to adequately protect soil, through a proposed Soils Framework Directive. Soil erosion, largely caused by climate change via erratic rainfall and temperature patterns, as well as land use change due to intensified agricultural practices and urban expansion, decreases the soil capacity to act as a carbon sink (i.e. to store CO2). Deterioration of soil quality in farmlands already in use results in lower crop yield, necessitating the use of even more fertilizer in order to meet production targets.
Redefining Farming as “Ecosystem Service”
Another problematic scenario is that a complete switch to organic farming with sustainable practices will likely result in a significant drop in crop yield, albeit an increase in food quality. A study modelling such a scenario for England and Wales has predicted about 40% reduction in yield, accompanied by about 20% drop in emissions (8). This jeopardizes farmer income, calling for a reconceptualization of the role of farmers from food producers to providing what is called “ecosystem services”: protecting biodiversity, applying carbon sequestration practices, safeguarding and improving soil and water quality, and being rewarded for these by the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Naturally, this calls for a radical redesign of the CAP, away from the extensive and destructive monoculture practices of the past, of the problematic subsidy system, and the concentration of farm land in corporate hands and regional monopolies.
Addressing the Global Consequences
The final point of the GUE/NGL plan calls for a radical change of the role of Europe internationally, from an orchestrator of Free Trade agreements focused largely on increasing exports and growth, into a guarantor of human rights and an enabler of a Green and Just Transition globally. That primarily includes divesting from destructive projects globally, something which at the moment the EU seems unable to do – see the recent failure to prevent an ongoing investment by Siemens in Australian coal mine infrastructure (9). Calling for fair and just international trade, respectful of climate and social objectives, demands a dismantling of the concept of “indefinite growth”, as entrenched in founding EU treaties.
Finally, one of the boldest demands is the call for recognition of “climate refugee” status and the international crime of ecocide, a long-awaited recognition of a grim reality already shaping human mobility patterns and changing the world as we know it, while attributing responsibility for crimes against nature to the only real culprit, however well veiled: capitalism.
3. Erisman, J.W.; J.N. Galloway; N.B. Dise; M.A. Sutton; A. Bleeker; B. Grizzetti; A.M. Leach & W. de Vries. 2015. Nitrogen: too much of a vital resource. Science Brief. WWF Netherlands, Zeist, The Netherlands.
8. Smith, L.G., Kirk, G.J.D., Jones, P.J. et al. The greenhouse gas impacts of converting food production in England and Wales to organic methods. Nat Commun 10, 4641 (2019) doi:10.1038/s41467-019-12622-7