European regions come together on green recovery and climate neutrality post COVID-19

Reading time: 5 minutes
26 June 2020

European Members of the Under2 Coalition convened for their first ever online-only meeting this week to discuss urgent climate issues including COVID-19, green recovery, COP26 and the European Green Deal.

Ministers from Baden-Württemberg, Catalonia, Emilia Romagna, Lombardy, Scotland, along with senior officials from regions including Abruzzo, Bavaria, Thuringia, Wales, Basque Country, Madeira, Andalucia, Navarre, North-Rhine Westphalia and South-Holland updated colleagues on their latest regional decarbonization strategies whilst cautioning against business as usual as members look to build a more resilient and sustainable system for their citizens.

Although this group has already expressed its support for the European Green Deal and the European Climate Pact, this was their first opportunity to share individual priorities around the European green agenda. Members particularly discussed regional climate neutrality targets and the role they can play in supporting the European Climate Law, which proposes a legally binding target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Green recovery can support climate neutrality in Europe

Minister Untersteller of Baden-Württemberg, Under2 Coalition European Co-Chair, called for a strong collective voice on green European recovery post COVID-19. 

Baden-Württemberg’s Climate Protection Law, introduced in 2013, is currently being revised to reflect greater ambition, as Germany has set the target of cutting emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.

Minister Untersteller also emphasised that the European Green Deal remains Europe’s most comprehensive strategy for green growth and should be at the heart of all recovery measures. This was echoed by Minister Calvet of Catalonia, who stressed that only a truly green recovery will provide resistance to future crises and help cultivate a circular economy. He encouraged all Under2 Coalition governments to implement clear regional legislative frameworks to meet climate neutrality goals. Catalonia’s 2017 Climate Change Law introduced a carbon tax and budget and formed a Climate Change Committee of Experts - due to meet this year. The region has also established a Commission for Economy Recovery and Social Protection to ensure the green agenda is tied to COVID-19 recovery.

Damia Calvet, Minister of Territory and Sustainability, Catalonia - “The goal is to maximise climate action and minimise climate impact”

Minister Cattaneo of Lombardy acknowledged that social, political and economic recovery is essential, but that it must be green and contribute to the ultimate goal of climate neutrality. He called on governments to combine European sustainability policies with their existing work on innovation and to exploit tools that are already available, like the Innovation Fund, to accelerate a sustainable recovery whilst meeting the commitments of the Paris Agreement. 

Raffaele Cattaneo, Minister for Environment and climate change, Lombardy – “We need recovery, but it must be a green recovery”

Vice president of Emilia Romagna Elly Schlein praised the European Commission for not backing down on their climate ambition and reminded Under2 Coalition Ministers that regional governments have a crucial role in mainstreaming climate targets in all policies. The region is dedicating resources to implementing a growth strategy framed around Sustainable Development Goals, and continues to invest in reducing waste, incentivising energy efficiency in buildings and planting more trees.

Elly Schlein, Vice President of Emilia Romagna – “My region was particularly hit by the health crisis with COVID-19, but we want to build in a different direction now”.

Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform in the Scottish Government, Roseanna Cunningham, concluded the meeting by calling on all members to retain their high-level climate ambitions and adopt actions to match. The Scottish Government, which has set a target to reach net zero emissions by 2045, will be home to COP26 in Glasgow next year. At this crucial time the Minister stressed the need for all voices to be heard, and particularly those from the global south who are being most severely affected by climate change.

Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform of the Scottish Government - “COP26 must be a milestone in global efforts to take action on climate change at all levels and set the world on course for a net zero future that is fair and just for all”.

Regional improvements to create global change

Although climate change needs to be seen as a global issue involving nations and continents, many of the adaptations needed to tackle it are best implemented at a regional level. Minister Baljeu of Zuid-Holland has described this as a ‘place-based approach’, where the transition to climate neutrality by 2050 should take place primarily on a local and regional level where governments are closest to citizens and ecosystems.

European members of the Under2 Coalition will continue to work towards their individual and collective climate goals and show their support for the implementation of the European Green Deal. The Under2 Coalition and the European Committee of the Regions are also discussing an action plan for collaboration and cooperation centred around implementation of the Paris Agreement, transparency and annual disclosure of climate targets and data and common activities to support swift adoption of the European Green Deal.

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