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Always Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth: The Case of the European Green Deal

On May 20th 2020, EFI held its first ThinkForest webinar: Science Insights to the European Green Deal and Forests. During this interactive event speakers and panelists took an in-depth look into the Green Deal, using a focus on the forest-based sector to discuss a range of topics including its objectives, weaknesses, and potential for further development. During the discussions, a key critique emerged from speakers and panelists: The Green Deal lacks clear consideration of a forest bioeconomy, which is crucial for addressing the climate, economy, and biodiversity simultaneously. The critique was met with an almost unanimous agreement by audience members, with a final poll revealing that 88% of participants thought the Green Deal should be updated to include this missing link.

As an EFI trainee but non-European, I tuned into the webinar with an eagerness to learn more about this progressive new growth strategy with a reserved respect, a feeling which was born from my American nationality. In the United States, an American version of the Green Deal exists only in the wildest fantasies and dreams of environmentalists. Instead of progress, our path to climate resilience seems to be characterized only by regression, as we continue to see actions by the current government including overturning of many environmental regulations and withdrawals from international climate change agreements.

With these discouraging thoughts of the United States’ progress in mind, I found myself unintentionally, but to a great extent, romanticizing the European Green Deal. It was not long before the speakers began to comment on its potential for improvement and I quickly remembered that nowhere in the event description did it suggest the event would consist of a 2+ hour praise of the Green Deal. And now, pushing the romanticism aside, I did not want it to.

Failure to address the Green Deal’s weaknesses and suggest its reform would be a grave injustice not only to the future of the planet, but to those who have fought for its protection for so many years. It is true that the EU (and others) have demanded such a strategy long before the Green Deal came along, but just because it is finally here does not mean that those who asked for it should be complacent. Despite the age-old expression “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” stakeholders are conducting a complete and unabashed inspection and evaluation of the mouth of the Green Deal. They will rightfully argue and insist on changes for its improvement, whether this includes updating it to address the current COVID-19 crisis, including a greater focus on the forest bioeconomy, or other changes they deem necessary for its success discussed in the webinar.

For me, the need for the Green Deal’s improvement was most apparent in the presentation on Forest Biodiversity and the Green Deal given by Professor Jürgen Bauhus at the University of Freiburg. Given my background in biodiversity conservation, I was surprised to learn that the Deal lists the expansion of the protected area system as a primary strategy for conserving biodiversity. While in some cases increasing the protected area network is a suitable strategy for biodiversity conservation, its use as a primary strategy is considered outdated by many researchers because it fails to consider that climate change may hinder a protected area’s ability to conserve biodiversity. It also has the potential to damage socio-ecological systems if it excludes people from the area such as the indigenous, which rely on the land for their livelhoods.For me, this signified that Europe has indeed made a large step in the right direction, but many additional smaller steps need to be taken for improvement.

Recommendations for conserving forest biodiversity given by Professor Jürgen Bauhus in the webinar

As the speakers gave their final remarks, I wondered if in the hopeful possibility of an American Green Deal I would be able to follow the same path from romanticism to realism, or if I was only able to do so now as an impartial non-European. For now, I have settled on the thought that in the context of my own country it will certainly be more difficult to remain critical. But I will still fight the urge to become complacent, because regardless of whether it is Europe, the US, or any other country, I recognize there is little room for imperfection in the wake of the climate crisis.

You can watch the recording of the webinar here.

Featured image from Pixabay

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