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Blog | Just a matter of survival

This blog touching on the state of our planet, European Green Deal, CAP and SDGs, has been written by Eero Yrjö-Koskinen, IEEP Executive Director.

“The question is only about survival” was the title of a speech given in 1985 by Pentti Linkola, a Finnish ecologist and writer, who spent the last decades of his life beside a lake in a modest hut as a fisherman. At that time, I was in my first summer job as a journalist in a local daily, Uusi Suomi, and managed to get his script, which was distributed to one of my colleagues who had attended the meeting organized by the Finnish green movement.

As a passionate ornitologist, Linkola had followed all his life the migration of birds and the gradual transformation of the Finnish nature, whereby he understood the dramatic changes that were taking place in front of his eyes. In his speech and later writings, he suggested drastic measures to reduce the impacts that mankind was having on other living species, such as radical population reduction and other initiatives that would keep human life within the limits of our planet. Many of his thoughts were so provocative that he was widely considered as an ecofascist.

Regardless of the fact that his proposals were impossible to accept in a society based on universal human rights, Linkola’s analysis of the state of the planet was undeniably correct. At the time, however, his messages were not well received as they challenged the existing way of life and economic thinking in Finland.

These memories came back to my mind this autumn when the United Nations published a public statement from Secretary-General António Guterres saying that “climate breakdown has begun”. Very few media gave any reference to it, even though it represented probably the most dramatic evaluation of the current climate crisis that humanity is facing.

Guterres’ warnings came amidst frightening reports and publications by climate scientists stating shocking increases in global mean temperatures this year.

All these warnings have had remarkably little or no effect on EU decision-makers. On the contrary, populist movements and climate change denialists are gaining support not only in Europe, but also in the United States. Similarly, the future of the European Green Deal, the crown jewel of President Ursula von der Leyen from the European Commission, is being challenged by many conservative parties and industry groups in Europe.

In some countries, such as in Finland, new government initiatives seem to treat climate mitigation as a purely industrial and consumer issue, whereby concerns related to the cost of living and the competitivity of the private sector often dictate the scale and nature of these measures. Needless to say, they fall far short from the decisive actions urged by UN Secretary-General Guterres.

On its behalf, IEEP published a CAP Vision report, where it called for a full revision of EU agricultural and food policies, which would allow the introduction of sustainable farming practices, achieve the necessary emission reductions and improve biodiversity, and therefore comply with the pledges made in Paris in 2015 and in Montreal in 2022.

Experience has shown, however, that environmental and climate concerns seldom have a major impact on CAP reform negotiations. Therefore, we may need a stronger catalyst to achieve a restructuring of land use practices in Europe. The accession of Ukraine, Moldova and the Western Balkan states could provide such an instrument. But it would also require a complete reshuffle of the decision-making in Europe, as stated in a report published by a Franco-German expert group on EU institutional reform.

At a time of increased challenges and tensions in Europe and globally, it could be wise to search for a new model for EU decision-making that would allow deeper integration and more decisive action among Member States that have a shared interest in promoting the green transition. In an enlarged European Union of up to 36 Member States, continuing on the basis of the current decision-making could eventually lead to total paralysis.

Finally, it is worthwhile to remember that the implementation of Agenda 2030 and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is now in mid-course. The fact that many of these goals have retracted since 2020 due to multiple crises, such as the pandemic, energy prices and the war in Ukraine, would require the introduction of stronger measures and proper funding at EU level. Similarly, the Commission should adopt a new high-level strategy on the implementation of Agenda 2030, as requested by the European Parliament in June 2022.

The SDGs are crucial for reaching our climate targets as they take into consideration also the social and human aspects of development. They are essential elements if we intend to safeguard our planet to future generations. To achieve these goals, the EU would require similar legally binding measures, targets and funding mechanisms to the ones already used in the European Green Deal.

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