Let's make Covid-19 a green stepping stone

By Morten Helveg Petersen, MEP, Denmark Renew Europe, (pictured)
Summer 2020

Morten Helveg Petersen, MEP, Denmark Renew EuropeWe cannot allow ourselves to pause the green transition because of Covid-19. Instead, let us use this crisis as an opportunity to make a green recovery of Europe.

As has already been seen, the Covid-19 pandemic will have an extremely negative impact on the European economy. However, even though the Covid-19 pandemic constitutes an immediate crisis, the climate crisis constitutes an existential threat towards future generations, thus staying 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 which needs 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. I believe that a Green Recovery Plan has the potential of creating millions of sustainable jobs across Europe both on the short and on the long term.

This plan will create local European jobs on the short and medium term by ensuring the green transition and secure the future of the European industry on the long term. Restarting the economy in a green manner will pave the way for necessary changes, allowing us to create much needed jobs while also reaching the goals set at the Paris Agreement.

However, a major challenge for the EU climate change policies in the aftermath of COVID-19 will be to ensure that the clean-energy projects are not delayed too dramatically. The negative effect 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, labour and delivery windows. For example, onshore windmill projects in northern Europe are delayed, and the production of materials such as wind turbines has been slowed down or completely stopped. The outcome of such projects depend very much on the economic recovery – the sooner it starts, the better it will be for clean energy investments.

Let's ride the Renovation Wave
Therefore, one of the main projects would be to start a so-called 'Renovation Wave' which has the potential of contributing significantly to the speeding up of 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's citizens' quality of living, whilst spurring the use of local renewable energy sources and creating new jobs both in the construction and the energy market. District heating helps reducing 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 between today and 2050 by expanding DHC networks in Europe.

In order to finance this project, we must prioritise investments and European Funds in renovation and retrofits projects which enable buildings to be Paris-proofed. We need to develop financial and fiscal incentives in order to increase renovation rates and promote deep staged renovation with ambitious energy efficiency goals. Furthermore, the financing of building renovations needs to be prioritised as an economic recovery measure in the new MFF proposal and as a powering factor for the just transition.

Let's go electric
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 our societies, as it is one of the most cost effective ways of reducing CO2 emissions. For the areas which 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 which would supply green energy to the markets of multiple 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 these converters originates from a renewable source and that only Power-to-X technologies which reduce CO2 emissions should be considered.

Finally, I believe that it is of utmost importance that we in invest in Green Mobility on a European scale. Crossborder investments in high-speed trains and the renovation of inter-city rail networks would also create new jobs, boost the European industry, and reduce emissions from the transport sector. Moreover, it is also important to promote green mobility by investing in better infrastructure such as more widespread charging stations. Investing in green mobility would have a positive effect on employment since, based on a moderate uptake of plug-in vehicles of approximately 35%, 200,000 jobs would be created before 2030.

As a result, it is important, considering the economic impact the COVID-19 crisis will have on the EU Member States, to focus on effective ways of restarting our economies. However, it 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 save our businesses but also our planet, while creating as many sustainable jobs as possible for European citizens.