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As the European Union is readying its plans for a green recovery after COVID19, the European Academies of Science urge policymakers to recognise the critical role of science and to step up their efforts in three key areas: energy, ecosystem and health. “COVID-19 has made the public acutely aware of the critical role of science in addressing a crisis. Now, with climate change, the next big crisis is already here. We hope that science will be heard before it’s too late to tackle the climate crisis,” says Michael Norton, EASAC’s Environment Programme Director.
How the European Union and its member states design recovery efforts will determine the quality of people’s lives for decades to come. Lower carbon emissions, cleaner air, respect for the ecosystem, stronger focus on health: Drawing upon their previous work, leading European scientists remind the European Union of its responsibility to take leadership and bolder action.
More rapid reduction in generation and use of high-carbon energy
Even with the disruption of almost all societal activities over the last couple of months, the emission reduction in 2020 is unlikely to reach the level of annual reductions required to meet the Paris Agreement targets. This means energy systems have to be transformed completely to get away from reliance on combustion of carbon, be it in the form of fossil fuels or even large-scale uses of biomass.
William Gillett, EASAC’s Energy Programme Director: “During the pandemic, coal-fired power generation has been significantly reduced and there has been a dramatic fall in oil consumption for transport. For a few weeks, this has given millions of citizens a chance to experience living with good air quality in cities and urban areas. Now, policymakers and investors must focus on mitigating climate warming and delivering a similarly healthy environment on a sustainable basis.”
Greater focus on agriculture, biodiversity and health
But the shift to a low-carbon energy system is not the only concern of the scientists. “COVID-19 reminds us of the vulnerability of dependence on global food systems. The European Union should strengthen sustainability of local and regional food supplies while reducing agriculture’s climate impact in the current revision of the Common Agriculture Policy,” says Robin Fears, EASAC’s Biosciences Director. “In addition, the green recovery is a chance to achieve health improvements in the near term and to reduce the growing health risks from climate change.”
According to EASAC, there is a disconnect between health policy – often decided at a Member State level – and policies on energy, agriculture and environment that are often better harmonised at EU level. However, the European institutions cannot be fully effective, unless Member States give them more science-based responsibility for health.
EASAC’s President, Christina Moberg, is adamant: “Just as science has been central to efforts to manage the coronavirus pandemic, it must also be central to inform other policies. Efficient green recovery requires international coordination and the EU should show leadership by inspiring ambitious action by other countries and in international programmes, based on independent science advice.”