Virginijus Sinkevičius: A Green and Digital Transition to Rebuild a Better Europe

Nov 16, 2020 | News, Publications

About the Author: Virginijus Sinkevičius has been the European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries since 2019. He was formerly the Minister of Economy of Lithuania (2017-2019). Before becoming the Minister of Economy, Sinkevičius led the Economic Committee of the Parliament of Lithuania. Sinkevičius was elected to Parliament in October 2016. Before that, he was a Team Lead for Regulatory Affairs at Invest Lithuania. Prior to joining Invest Lithuania, Sinkevičius was Managing Editor at the US Office of The Lithuanian Tribune in Washington D.C. Sinkevičius holds a BA in International Relations and Affairs from Aberystwyth University and a Master’s degree in European International Affairs from Maastricht University.

Covid-19 has underlined our personal fragility, but has also thrown a sharp light on our social and economic vulnerabilities. These anxieties continue and now more than ever, as President Von der Leyen stated, it is our responsibility ‘to be there for those that need it.’

When Member States closed their borders, Europe created green lanes for essential goods. It worked with industry to increase the production of masks, gloves, tests and ventilators. It brought citizens home, and helped medical staff travel to where it was needed most.

In the Recovery and Resilience Facility, the EU now has the most powerful financial tool it has ever created, with EUR 670 billion to get our union back on its feet again. That alone is a success of historic proportions.

But the situation, of course, has not been resolved, and long-term action will be needed. We continue the fight against the pandemic with plans to create a new agency for advanced biomedical research and development. The aim is to strengthen our readiness to respond to cross-border threats and emergencies, and to address supply chain dependencies, notably for pharmaceutical products.

The agency is one example of the long-term thinking that characterizes the current commission. We cannot expect the future to become less disruptive. The answer is to prepare more effectively for shocks, with an eye on a lengthy time horizon.

This has always been the thinking behind the European Green Deal, the new growth strategy adopted in the early days of this commission, and which remains an essential element of our efforts to recover from the crisis. It will boost our strategic autonomy, and help build a fairer, climate-neutral and digitally sovereign future. It is driven by scientific evidence and economic logic. Together with the digital transformation agenda, it forms a growth model for a more sustainable, inclusive, resilient and future-proof economy, and reinvigorated single market.

Most eyes are still on Covid-19, but we face challenges on many sides. Climate change, terrestrial and marine biodiversity loss, excessive consumption of resources and pollution on land and at sea are existential emergencies, and they remain as relevant as ever. The Green Deal tackles these issues in a systemic manner, and prioritizing environmentally-friendly policies now will make crises like the current pandemic less likely to recur in the future.

In its first year, the commission proposed a broad array of measures announced in the Green Deal. We have a new Climate Law, a new Circular Economy Action Plan, and most recently, new strategies for biodiversity, farming and food. Work is advancing to deliver the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability after the summer, as well as a Zero Pollution Action Plan for air, water and soil next year. And with a new, 8th Environment Action Programme to be presented this autumn, we will keep track of our joint environmental and climate objectives to live well within planetary boundaries by 2050.

The Green Deal also highlights that all initiatives should respect the green oath to “do no harm.”

As proposed by the commission, the recovery package confirms the need to act on the short-term crisis and use the recovery effort to tackle this generation’s defining task: addressing climate and environment-related challenges. This is why the Green Deal is a major part of the political narrative in the recovery package, which amends EU budget proposals for the next seven years.

Putting it into action will require investment in key green sectors such as the circular economy, the coming renovation wave, clean transport, sustainable food, clean energy and health. Protecting and restoring biodiversity and natural ecosystems also deserve a central place.

Circular economy investments not only reduce the environmental and climate footprints of production and consumption systems, they also generate significant savings for businesses and reduce our dependence on third countries for primary raw materials.

The green investments required are significant, and cover not only the current 2030 climate and energy targets (EUR 240 billion in additional annual investment) but also investment needs to deliver on Europe’s wider transport infrastructure (EUR 100 billion per year) and environmental objectives (EUR 130 billion per year).

The EU’s sustainable finance taxonomy regulation will guide investments to ensure they are in line with our long-term ambitions and the priorities identified in the Green Deal.

Once adopted, most of the new investments will run through the Recovery and Resilience Facility. Hence for the green transition to happen, Member States must share national their Recovery and Resilience plans with the commission, ensuring coherence with the long-term strategies of the union.

It is an opportunity window also for Lithuania. Lithuania will be able to use up to EUR 5,4 billion for recovery which should also foster green transition and built more resilient economy and healthier society.

The transition, of course, needs to be just and fair. Decarbonising the European economy is a delicate matter, and the commission is there to assist regions and sectors that depend on fossil fuels and carbon-intensive processes, and to help workers find more sustainable employment opportunities.

The Just Transition Mechanism and Fund should mobilize some EUR 150 billion over the period from 2021-2027 in the most affected regions, re-skilling jobseekers affected by the transition. It will also finance projects such as renovation of buildings and investments in renewable energy, district heating and sustainable transport.

The other defining trend of our time is digitalization – a movement whose speed has been acceleration by the current crisis. It now affects large sectors of our lives, from digital communications and e-commerce to streamed entertainment and online gaming. New business models are constantly emerging from this maelstrom of innovation.

With its new Digital Strategy, the EU confirmed its ambition to be a global leader in digital technologies. Left unchecked, these technologies could accelerate unsustainable patterns of consumption and production, with an environmental footprint that represents 14% of global emissions. We are therefore committed to building a digital sector that puts sustainability at its heart, and to using these technologies as a powerful enabler for the green transition, unleashing their potential in areas like the circular economy, precision farming, and biodiversity protection.

The Green Deal shows the rest of the world that we are serious about taking climate and environmental action, and that we want others to do the same. Global solidarity, open and fair trade, rules-based order, and multilateralism are crucial to avoiding a short-term recovery based around fossil fuels and intensive resource use, storing up bigger problems for the future. Such policies would imperil people and the planet.

Through development assistance, climate diplomacy and bilateral and multilateral cooperation frameworks, the EU is working with its international partners to highlight the economic, social and environmental benefits of ‘rebuilding better,’ and to support clear and robust low-carbon plans and green recovery strategies at a national level.

It is possible to achieve an enormous amount in five years. And with the European Green Deal, we can literally change the course of history, setting Europe and Lithuania on a path to a sustainable, low-carbon, healthy future. It’s the future that people all around the Union and In Lithuania want, and one we are determined to deliver.

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