The race is on to find a vaccine for COVID-19. But there will never be a vaccine for climate change.
That’s how Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, sees the pressing nature of the climate crisis. She’s not alone. It’s a view shared by Pascal Canfin, Chair of the Environment Committee in the European Parliament and former French Minister for Development.
Canfin joined Casper Klynge on the Tech Fit 4 Europe podcast to talk about why climate change can’t be ignored – even in the midst of a pandemic.
Here are five takeaways from their conversation.
1. We don’t have to choose between growing the economy and protecting the environment
The pandemic has shaken economies large and small alike. There is clearly a need to get people back into work, spur economic growth, and maintain people’s standard of living. For those who have lost their jobs, the focus on sustainability might feel like a lesser priority. But the EU is working to achieve a balance between the two.
Sometimes striking that balance might mean directing investment and economic stimulus in a particular direction. Canfin makes the point that an investment of €1 billion in the construction sector can be directed toward projects that offer a green dividend. That might include energy-efficient buildings or adapt an infrastructure to climate change.
2. The debate on carbon pricing is set to continue
Carbon pricing is still a divisive issue, even within the EU. It could make goods imported from countries without such a mechanism even harder for European producers to compete with. One way to level that playing field is through a carbon levy on imports.
Without such levies, EU goods that are subject to carbon pricing will be more expensive than equivalent items from competing countries.
“It’s not protectionism, because it’s not discriminatory,” Canfin says.
“That’s the kind of thing we’re looking at,” he continues. “We do not want to put our industries at risk, so that’s a tool we’re working on.”
3. Europe can be a pathfinder for sustainable growth
Europe could be the world’s first carbon neutral continent by 2050. And if it balances the needs of both the climate and the economy, it could demonstrate how jobs and prosperity go hand-in-hand with environmental priorities. Europe can set an example for the rest of the world, Canfin says.
The EU can also use its position as a leading global aid donor, he argues, to encourage sustainable growth: “We need to make sure that we help countries invent their way to climate neutrality via access to technology.”
4. Multi-stakeholder partnerships will be key to real progress
Even the most progressive of businesses cannot make a lasting, meaningful contribution to reversing climate change alone. The scale of the challenge is so great that it can only be overcome through partnerships and coordinated multi-stakeholder efforts, Canfin says – noting that, while the best visions and objectives may yield excellent results, on their own, they are a drop in the ocean.
He believes that if regulators engage with private business, they can learn from one another, and best practice can be identified and captured in legislation that will help other businesses fall into step. That kind of collective progress is what will turn the tide, Canfin says: “As politicians, we can say, ‘Look, what you are doing is a success,’ then we can make it not the exception, but the rule.”
5. Technology is a fundamental part of the green agenda
Technology has a dual role in supporting the green agenda. First, there is the issue of greening the ICT sector –for example, looking at the energy consumption of data centers and how that can be minimized.
There is also an important role in supporting the wider vision of how digital can support the green transition, Canfin says. For instance, integrating energy from smart homes to electric vehicles and intelligent public transportation systems, while balancing the supply and demand of energy in efficient ways, is a great example of a green transformation that we cannot imagine without the power of digital technology.
Once you reduce the footprint of tech through investments in renewable energy and circular economy and other areas, there are tremendous opportunities that technology can create for every sector in the fight against climate change.
A transcript of this episode can be found here.
Listen to more episodes of the Tech Fit 4 Europe podcast here.