Failure to green the recovery would be ‘huge disservice to future generations’

The European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans says it would be ‘a huge disservice to future generations’ if the current money available for recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic was not used to green Europe’s economy. Speaking in a debate to mark T&E’s 30th anniversary, Timmermans said the EU had to help the ‘millions of Europeans who want to do the right thing but they can’t afford it’.

The EU has announced it is setting up a Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), alongside a review of its multi-annual budget, to help the European economy recover from the damage caused by the coronavirus. Environmental groups have said this money must support the European Green Deal launched when the current Commission took office last year. That view has been supported by Timmermans, the second-most powerful EU bureaucrat after the Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

‘We have a limited time to get this right,’ Timmermans told a Europe-wide online audience. ‘The climate crisis hasn’t moved down people’s agenda during the pandemic, in fact millions of Europeans want to do the right thing but they can’t afford it. We have a limited time to get this right. We can either do this fairly, or we can leave it to the market in which case we’ll have a few very rich winners and lots of losers.’

The Commission vice-president added a personal dimension, saying he became a grandfather a month ago which had made him additionally aware of the obligation today’s politicians have to the future. ‘We can’t mobilise again the funds we have available now in a few years – we have made available now a lot of money to recover from the pandemic, but that won’t be repeated for a long time, so it we would be doing a huge disservice to future generations if we did not use this money to build an economy that respects our environmental obligations.’

T&E’s executive director William Todts gave a cautious welcome to Timmermans’ comments. ‘What he says is music to our ears,’ Todts said, ‘but we have to make sure these nice words are backed up by real action. The Commission has proposed some good initiatives as part of the Green Deal, but it also has a few blind spots, such as transitional technologies that in many ways are licences to keep using fossil fuels longer than is necessary. The battle against climate change is increasingly urgent, so we have to make sure Europe’s economy not just becomes greener, but becomes greener fast.’

Timmermans also dismissed those who say that action on tackling emissions from aviation and shipping should be left to international initiatives as ‘an excuse for doing nothing’, adding: ‘The airline industry should take a long hard look at itself,’ though he said the Commission would work with the industry rather than against it to reduce CO2 emissions from planes.