COVID-19 and the environmental crisis: major challenges for the European Union

by Johannes Müller Gómez, Université de Montréal & Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich; and Frauke Ohler, Université catholique de Louvain

This policy memo deals with two vital crises that the world is currently facing: the COVID-19 pandemic and environmental challenges. Both crises are global in nature and require strong and comprehensive responses. While the pandemic has hit the world unprepared and with immediate effects, the environmental and climate crises seem less imminent and have rather medium- or long-term repercussions.

The COVID-19 pandemic carries the risk of further obstructing environmental initiatives for two main reasons. First, the postponement of international environmental negotiations could lead to a loss of momentum for enhanced commitments to environmental protection and climate change mitigation by the EU and other parties. Second, the current developments shift priorities from ambitious environmental programmes to concerns about economic recovery. Even if options for a sustainable growth strategy are discussed to some extent, COVID-19 has the potential to set back the international commitment to environmental protection and to climate change mitigation by several years.

We prescribe four policy recommendations that seek to counteract these challenges: (1) The EU should contribute to keeping environmental protection and climate change mitigation on the top of the world’s agenda. (2) The EU should demonstrate how sustainable policies result in economic growth and the creation of jobs. (3) The EU should actively serve as a role model for other parties and diffuse its environmentally friendly policies globally. (4) EU leaders should find flexible procedural solutions to guarantee a strong European voice at the upcoming international meetings.