Plenary Session II: The European Green Deal – new impulses for a resource efficient Europe in a circular economy

In this panel discussion, moderated by Dr. Harry Lehmann (General Director, Division of Environmental Planning and Sustainability Strategies of the German Environment Agency), we had the pleasure to count with several speakers related to the European Union and discussed the frameworks, paths and relevance of a circular economy in the context of European Green Deal, and how such a deal and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic are two sides of the same coin. The speakers included:

  • Dr. Janez Potočnik, Co-chair of the UNEP International Resource Panel and former European Commissioner for R&D and Environment, Slovenia.
  • Ms. Delara Burkhardt, Member of European Parliament, Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, Germany.
  • Ms. Sirpa Pietikäinen, Member of European Parliament, Group of the European
    People’s Party, Finland.
  • Mr. Michael Bloss, Member of the European Parliament, Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance, Germany.

The session started with a sense of urgency but hope, as Ms. Burkhardt laid out the many reasons why it is necessary to adopt a circular economy that helps reduce our material resource extraction patterns (e.g. around 80% of biodiversity loss is related to resource extraction!) and how the current pandemic represents a unique reminder of the need for a systemic -and not just cosmetic- change. Such a mix of feelings was reflected also in Mr. Bloss’ intervention, as he stressed the need for us to reduce the EU’s material footprint -14 tonnes per capita per year!- and reminded us of the hope that the younger generations bring in creating a radical change through popular pressure, with movements such as Fridays For Future.

Next we had a presentation by Dr. Potočnik introducing the framework outlined in the report A System Change Compass for delivering the European Green Deal in a time of recovery, co-written by the Club of Rome and SYSTEMIQ. This report shows how a systemic approach can help in a quick and effective rollout of an ambitious European Green Deal and a circular economy. The framework is based on a Compass with 10 guiding principles to redefine key concepts in our socioeconomic systems to a central natural resources optics, that takes into account the dependence of our economies on the planet. See below for a graph with said principles:

These, applied together with a mapping of human needs through different economic ecosystems, leads to 30 guidelines at the system level for policymakers to incorporate in their decisionmaking, and to 50+ subsystems (industrial champions and leaders within such ecosystems) that should be invested in and powered for a greener Europe after COVID-19.

The idea of an EGD guided in this way being necessary for a successful recovery after the pandemic was again pointed out by Dr. Potočnik and reinforced by all speakers, and Ms. Pietikäinen joined in the call for a paradigm shift in which industries don’t consider resources as infinite, and take an “astronaut approach” where we can see clearly how small our planet is and how much we are consuming of it.

Next followed a discussion about how Europe can use our advantage in setting standards for a change, such as with more complete ecodesign regulations, and how the size of the European markets would surely create a ripple effect in the rest of the world. Of course, this can not be attained only through political parties, but needs a very strong popular support that translates into political drive. The tools for such a European Green Deal are there, but rallying public pressure for less short-sighted policy approaches are necessary for such a change to happen.

In short, we already know what to do and how to approach the problem, but as Hegel said (quoted by Dr. Potočnik):

KNOWING IS NOT ENOUGH; WE MUST APPLY.

WILLING IS NOT ENOUGH, WE MUST DO.


Reported by David Amado-Blanco González, Lund University, Sweden