By Marcel Gascón Barberá
How excited should we be about the European Green Deal and its prospective impact for the continent? Three leading changemakers — brought together on a panel organized by Ashoka and EIT Climate-KIC’s Community Lab— shared their answers.
The conclusion they have in common: While Green Deal financial provisions are far from enough to respond to the social and environmental challenges facing the continent, it’s a unique opportunity for Central and Eastern Europe to step up efforts in the right direction while offering poor communities a chance to develop sustainably.
“The EU Green Deal is not enough and that should be obvious for us,” says the head of the Polish chapter of Greenpeace, Pawel Szypulski. The agreement, whose final details are still being negotiated by the EU institutions, has so far failed to set ambitious enough targets when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The target: a reduction of 55 percent by 2030. Greenpeace is pushing for 65 percent.
Moreover, the European Commission has slashed the money allocated to the Just Transition Fund designed to help communities go through the energy transition from 40 billion euros to 17.5 billion. Central and Eastern Europe are home to some of the communities most affected by the transition away from coal. “This money will not fund the actual development per se in the region,” Bankwatch energy campaigns coordinator Ioana Ciuta says.
Faced with these disappointments, changemakers aren’t content. They will keep working. But there’s also promise on the horizon.
Make the most of the moment
While the EU parliament finalises negotiations on the definitive form of the agreement, governments and NGOs in Central and Eastern Europe should prepare to leverage the Green Deal and start looking for alternative funding to cover its gaps, Ioana says.
“What’s important is to make use of the moment to design some plans together with the communities, municipalities and regions affected to make sure they have projects that easily attract funding from other available sources—from multilateral development banks such as the European Investment Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, EBRD, which are also putting budget aside for this kind of work.”
Although he agrees that the Green Deal will likely fall short of funding the needs of the region when it comes to its energy transition, Pawel warns against underestimating the important impact of this agreement for post-communist Europe. Take Poland, for example: even if they are not ambitious enough, the targets already set by the deal will lead to “revolutionary outcomes” in the country, he says. Applying the new measures will make it impossible to maintain the country’s heavy reliance on coal, leading to “total transformation.”
Biodiversity activist Florin Stoican, an Ashoka Fellow involved in several conservation projects in Romania, also predicts that the Green Deal will be a major force for positive change in Central and Eastern Europe. The deal will make an unprecedented amount of resources available for conservation and energy transformation projects in countries where these fields are traditionally underfunded. Plus, it will establish an EU Biodiversity Strategy that will help the region to conserve habitats and animal populations, and sponsor projects that help communities to thrive.
Fueling a movement (sustainably)
Pawel stresses the need to combine this pragmatic approach based on optimizing all the instruments and resources made available by the Green Deal with a sustained campaign driven by activists, innovators and NGOs to demand more mobilization of funds and more ambitious environmental objectives.
In his view, simply expecting that a program emanating from Brussels will solve all the challenges in the region is a recipe for certain failure. He deemed the work of civic organisations “totally vital” for effecting real change.
“Without civil society, without climate changemakers in our region we won’t see any progress, because political culture in our region is not focused on plans of reliable strategies,” Pawel says.
Honesty leads to the best policy
One of the priorities of these non-governmental players, Pawel says, should be “setting the agenda.” He advocates being brutally honest about their aspirations and goals.
Two years ago, when no one in Poland dared to openly set a clear term to get rid of coal plants, Greenpeace started “saying openly and loudly” that “we need to phase out coal in 2030,” he remembers. In the beginning, Greenpeace activists expected to be treated as fools for their ambitious target. But when they were taken seriously, it sparked a debate, putting the issue at the centre of the public agenda. A single organisation turned what seemed like a pipe dream into a desirable prospect for some segments of the Polish society.
“Our actions matter in a more impactful way than we can think,” Pawel says. “Telling the truth about the biodiversity crisis and the climate emergency can be a real changemaking strategy.” He calls on activists to rebel against “political realism” and lead the public opinion with a discourse based on honesty.
Community Lab in Central-Europe is an idea rooted in a collaborative work of Ashoka and EIT Climate-KIC in 2019. Based on an ecosystem map of climate changemakers in the region, a consortia of CKIC partners is establishing the Community Lab to bring in individuals, start-ups and various organisations from the region in order to introduce changes and build networks for collaboration.