May 7, 2020

Covid-19: Environmental Law and Sustainability

Global climate change has already had evident, detrimental effects on the environment. Recent years have witnessed shrinking glaciers, rising sea levels, rising maximum and minimum temperatures, which all have indirect consequences to the environment, wildlife, habitats and us humans. While the world is struggling to contain the spread of the coronavirus, most economic activities that rely on fossil fuels have come to a halt, leading to noticeable reductions in air pollution.

Air Pollution

Satellite images showing a dramatic plunge in air pollution all around the globe have circulated broadly across social media platforms, offering a silver lining to an otherwise dark period. Nevertheless, these images of hope are also a reminder of the climate crisis that could follow when the pandemic passes. In the initial aftermath of the 2008 Great Recession, global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning and cement production decreased by 1.4%, only to rise by 5.9% in 2010. 

What happens over the coming months could go one of two ways. According to the International Energy Agency, CO2 emissions are predicted to decrease by 8% in 2020, seven times more than the decline in 2008, with an expected 6% drop in energy demand. This crisis may well be a turning point for the adoption of renewable energy.

Unless the world works together to support a resilient recovery, once the lockdowns are lifted and life adapts to the new norm, so will the smog that hides the skies and with it the greenhouse gases that fuel global warming. In fact, it is possible that the rebound could have an even more devastating effect to the environment and human health.

Climate Law

On 4 March 2020 the European Commission submitted the proposal for the Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing the framework for achieving climate neutrality and amending Regulation (EU) 2018/1999 (“Climate Law”).

The Climate Law stipulates the goal set in the European Green Deal, a set of policies recently announced by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, for Europe’s economy and society to become climate-neutral by 2050. In other words, EU member states as a whole would need to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions, primarily through reduction of emissions, investment in green technologies and environmental protection.

EU Green Deal

On 11 December 2019 the European Commission communicated the European Green Deal (“Green Deal”) for the EU and its citizens that aims to reset the Commission’s commitment to tackling  climate and environmental-related challenges, toward sustainable and inclusive growth.

The Commission has prepared concrete actions that will offer a strong basis for the Green Deal. It is an integral part of the Commission’s strategy to implement the UN 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. Benefits include zero pollution, affordable and secure energy, smarter transport and high-quality food.

The EU continues to be a leading forerunner in promoting and implementing environment, climate and energy policies. However, it cannot undertake such tremendous task alone and, therefore, cooperation by all Member States, other countries and all relevant stakeholders is imperative. As the world’s largest single market, the EU can continue to set global standards. Ultimately, we must all work together in the best interest of current and future generations.
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