It’s clear to everyone that the Coronavirus outbreak will have an extremely negative impact on the European economy.
However, even although COVID-19 constitutes an immediate crisis, the climate crisis constitutes an existential threat towards future generations, and is therefore the greatest challenge for our generation to overcome.
The decarbonisation of our European economy is a fundamental challenge which we must tackle now.
The vast amounts of money that need to be invested immediately to get the economy back on track should be as green as possible and, at the same time, ensure job creation.
The proposal set out by the European Commission is, in my view, a very important step in creating millions of sustainable jobs.
However, a major challenge for the EU’s climate change policies in the aftermath of COVID-19 will be to ensure that clean energy projects are not too dramatically delayed.
“The vast amounts of money that need to be invested immediately to get the economy back on track should be as green as possible and, at the same time, ensure job creation”
The negative impact of low fossil fuel prices could be further magnified over the short and medium term, when considering the uncertainty that the clean energy projects under development are facing over construction schedules, equipment, and labour and delivery windows.
For example, onshore wind farm projects in northern Europe have been delayed, and the production of parts such as wind turbines has slowed down or stopped completely.
The outcome of such projects depends very much on the economic recovery; the sooner it starts, the better it will be for clean energy investments.
Therefore, one of the main projects to start would be a so-called ‘Renovation Wave’, which has the potential to significantly accelerate the EU Green Recovery plan.
Renovating buildings by focusing on a complete decarbonisation of the heat sector through heat pumps and district heating and cooling (DHC) can improve EU citizens’ quality of life and spur the use of local renewable energy sources, while creating new jobs both in the construction and energy sectors.
District heating will help reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and increases the security of supply for households as well as Member States.
It is estimated that 220,000 new and greener jobs could be created by 2050 if we start expanding DHC networks in Europe now.
In order to finance this project, we must prioritise investments and European funds in renovation and retrofit projects that make buildings ’Paris-proof’.
We need to develop financial and fiscal incentives in order to increase renovation rates and promote deep, staged renovation with ambitious energy efficiency goals.
“The EU Green Recovery plan is also a unique opportunity to change the ways our economies function for the better, by focusing on a more sustainable industry, thus helping us reach the goals set by the European Green Deal”
However, the renovation wave is not the only green project which has the potential of considerably contributing to the EU Green Recovery plan.
We must also prioritise the electrification of society, as this is one of the most cost-effective ways of reducing CO2 emissions.
For those areas that electrification cannot cover, such as heavy industry and heavy transport, power-to-hydrogen may be a solution.
We should therefore focus on large-scale, multi-linked offshore wind installations and research into large scale hydrogen and green fuel production.
This could be a common offshore wind project that would supply green energy to the markets of several EU Member States.
Consequently, we should also continue to develop the storage capacity of excess renewable energies and its conversion into other energies for different sectors, such as power-to-hydrogen.
For this to make sense, it is essential that the energy needed to power converters originates from a renewable source and that only so-called ‘Power-to-X’ technologies, which reduce CO2 emissions, should be considered.
I believe that it is of utmost importance that we in invest, on a European scale, in green mobility.
Crossborder investments in high-speed trains and renovation of intercity rail networks would also create new jobs, boost European industry, and reduce emissions from the transport sector.
Investing in green mobility would have a positive effect on employment since, based on a moderate uptake of plug-in vehicles of approximately 35 percent, 200,000 jobs would be created by 2030.
As a result, it is important, given the economic impact the COVID-19 crisis will have on EU Member States, to focus on effective ways of restarting our economies.
However, the EU Green Recovery plan is also a unique opportunity to change the ways our economies function for the better, by focusing on a more sustainable industry, thus helping us reach the goals set by the European Green Deal.
It is imperative to grab this chance and initiate these projects as soon as possible in order to not only save our businesses but also our planet, and create as many sustainable jobs as possible for European citizens.