Strengthening our society within the planetary boundaries

The current crisis shines an unforgiving light on how the fulfilment of our most basic needs relies now on fragile, unsustainable systems. This crisis also finds its very origin in deforestation and protected animal traffic and was worsened by poor quality environment (notably air pollution). We must start to implement the changes which will allow us to mitigate and to go through the next crisis, within the limits of our ecosystems.


The current crisis revealed once again the interdependence between human health, the well-being of our societies and of the natural systems on which they depend. ForEuropeans to live well within the limits of the planet, our modes of production and consumption need a radical change. While reducing our impact on wildlife and biodiversity could help us prevent the emergence of a new zoonotic disease like Covid-19, we need to ensure that all sectors of the economy fully contribute to achieving a climate-neutral, environmentally sustainable, zero-pollution and fully circular economy by 2040. This is the only way to face the existential threat posed by climate change and the massive loss of biodiversity. The European Green Deal remains more than ever the basis for our future development model. It should even be reinforced to ensure all investment efforts do no harm to the climate nor to the environment and even act as a win-win out of the crisis:

  • The Union should step up its climate ambition by enshrining into the ClimateLaw the objective of reducing its economy-wide emissions by -65% by 2030 and of reaching climate-neutrality by 2040 at the latest. The Recovery Package should kick-start the transformation of our economy and ensure all sectors are put on a path towards climate-neutrality.
  • Stepping up EU action to protect and restore domestic and global biodiversity can act as a win-win for avoiding the spread of new zoonotic diseases like Covid-19 while addressing the unprecedented biodiversity crisis we are facing. The Commission should introduce legally binding targets of protecting at least 30% of Europe’s land and seas and of restoring at least 30% of Europe’s ecosystems by 2030, and strongly support the adoption of such equivalent targets at the global level. Current EU nature and biodiversity laws should be complemented within a year by a Nature Restoration Regulation to ensure such targets are enshrined into law. At least €150bn should be mobilised over the next 10 years for the implementation of the EU Biodiversity Strategy.The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and EcosystemServices (IPBES) should be tasked to publish a thorough review of the global scientific knowledge on the impacts of biodiversity loss and the broader effects of human activity on the natural world on the emergence of pandemics such asCOVID-19. Finally, as the third destination of illegal wildlife traffic as well as anexporter, the EU must lead the fight against environmental criminality.
  • The EU should unilaterally take the lead by adopting more legislation on mandatory due diligence, as already done in specific areas such as certain conflict minerals and timber, in order to enable the tracing of supply chains to the origins of the raw materials and to include the due diligence obligation with regard to environmental, social and human rights on companies at each step of the supply chain. Such legislation would also be a very pertinent tool to impose mandatory due diligence obligations on both upstream and downstream operators in forest-risk commodity supply chains and therefore to help the fight against deforestation and the protection of the biodiversity.
  • Stepping up the EU’s fight against environmental pollution, in particular air pollution, Recovery funds should be invested in clean technologies for heavily polluting sectors, such as agriculture, chemicals and transport, to ensure the industries recover along a future-proof and sustainable path towards zero pollution. A zero-pollution action plan for air, water and soil, and a chemicals strategy for sustainability are needed more than ever. They should aim at preventing any form of pollution and reducing it to levels that are no longer harmful to human health and the environment so as to live well, within the planet’s ecological limits. The chemicals strategy for sustainability needs to close the regulatory gaps in EU chemicals legislation, achieving rapid substitution of substances of very high concern and other hazardous chemicals, including endocrine disruptors, very persistent chemicals, neurotoxicants and immuno-toxicants, as well as tackling the combination effects of chemicals, nano-forms of substances and exposure to hazardous chemicals from products. In particular, pesticides, which are applied to more than 30% ofEuropean landscape, should be addressed by implementing the proposals of thePEST committee’s final report into legislation.
  • The Commission should speed up the adoption of harmonized criteria for the definition of economic activities that should be phased out as they significantly harm climate and the environment. This “brown taxonomy” should act as a compass to avoid public and private spending being injected in and locked into the old fossil-dependent, overproducing and throw away economy.


One of the big shocks of this crisis is the realisation that the access to some of the EU citizens’ basic needs, and in particular food and health, is much more fragile than many thought. Whilst food is still on EU shelves, prices have been very unstable. The lack of farm workers will massively impact the production of fruits and vegetables, and disturbance in the trade of inputs (fertilisers, pesticides, seeds and animal feed) is affecting production deeply, and might even lead to the collapse of certain sectors.During this crisis, difficulties in live animal transport (within the EU and to/from third countries) have drawn further attention to the need to reduce and re-localise this production, given the animal welfare and food security implications. European food sovereignty is far from achieved. To solve this situation, the EU needs to support and invest in the diversification and the re-localisation of productions.

  • This means to be able to prioritize internal and regional markets over exports, preferring shorter supply chains and avoiding trade agreements that are endangering our local basic production. Relying on imports from third countries for these is not only problematic at an environmental level, it can compromise our food security and sovereignty, and is often to the detriment of both parties, as our export-based model floods developing markets with cheap food. An agro-ecological model has the potential to provide healthy and environmentally friendly food to all European.
  • This diversification and re-localisation needs to be done within the limits of the EU ecosystem, which means we also need to support the more sustainable and robust options (for example by ensuring 30% of our farmland is organic by2030) and decrease certain productions to the benefit of others (for example setting targets to reduce meat consumption, whilst reorganising the meat sector through a plant protein plan and higher animal welfare standards), as well as strengthening the conditions farmers need to fulfil, to be eligible for public support.
  • Re-localisation requires that we decrease input dependency in the food sector, notably by supporting a -50% pesticide use target in 2025 (-80% by 2030 and phasing out pesticide use by 2035) and a -50% synthetic fertilisers use target in2030 in the Farm to Fork Strategy, a strictly implemented Sustainable Use ofPesticides Directive and strengthening the future CAP. To enable shorter supply chains to thrive, we need to maintain good quality green jobs in rural areas. It is all the more vital in this crisis to equalize payments among farmers in different member states, to prevent the vanishing of farms in some regions of EuropeanUnion.
  • Public procurement should also play its role in the development of local food systems, by giving priority to sustainable regional and internal markets.
  • The resilience of our food system relies on having a multitude of small farmers and small fishers towards which EU support should be directed. We should also make sure the economic recovery in the agricultural and fisheries sector is not done at the expense of environmental or social protection. The necessary shift towards organic farming, as well as sustainable forestry, can also provide employment opportunities.
  • A major tool to achieve these goals is a strong shift in the future CommonAgricultural Policy, which is accounting for more than 35% of the European budget.
  • Finally, transparency should be ensured concerning the distribution of CAP andFEAMP funds, in order to guarantee the cessation of harmful subsidies and that small fishermen and farmers are the principal beneficiaries of the EU budget and Covid-investment plan.


Instead of refurbishing a system that has shown its weakness, the EU should seize this occasion to revitalize the economy post-COVID-19 through legally binding targets and targeted investments allowing our society to be better prepared against future crises -new pandemics, the already ongoing climate crisis or the consequences of the ecosystem collapse. Sectors that combine a high local and quality-job creation potential, the potential to revitalize our territories while reducing bills for household sand reducing our collective ecological footprint should be prioritized:

  • Launching the Renovation Wave: An ambitious and holistic building renovation strategy targeted to the community level, accompanied by an inclusive and gender-balanced skills strategy, will stimulate local economies, while supporting societal cohesion and healthier living conditions for all. A renovation wave that incorporates the circular economy and a life cycle approach on an industrial scale would contribute to achieving societal and environmental goals. An increased renovation rate must be coupled with minimum energy performance standards and the NZEBs (Nearly zero energy building) objective. Renovations must be undertaken in a holistic and inclusive manner (estimated impact: >€75 billion/year of public incentives necessary to ensure an energy efficient building stock by 2050; up to 2 million local jobs).
    Unlocking the job creation potential of renewables in Europe, in particular by boosting the demand for small-scale photovoltaic panels. Bring forward a pan-European Solar rooftop programme, as part of the upcomingRenovation Wave, including mandatory solar installations in public buildings inMember States. We need upcoming recovery programs such as the EIBCoronavirus Crisis Response to provide grants, loans, tax incentives for SMEs and commercial and industrial buildings to invest into solar energy sourcing(solar rooftops or PPAs).
  • Rethinking public spaces to promote sustainable mobility: We have seen many places in Europe expand or add cycling lanes during the COVID-19lockdown in order to promote mobility that is better suited to social distancing rules: walking and cycling. Public authorities should be actively encouraged to retain or extend these measures which will undoubtedly promote this kind of travel, thereby reducing emissions, keeping people fit, and – if need be – allow for social distancing.
  • Ensuring a sustainable modal shift: the Recovery Plan should be an opportunity to invest in much-needed public transport and to ensure a true modal shift, reducing air pollution and contributing to climate action. It means more trams, more regular and zero-emission buses and true intermodality in our cities; an EU action plan and large scale financial support for the upgrading, extension and maintenance of railways, investments in trains, night-trains, cross-border rail connections and other rail transport related innovation. There should be EU coordination to ensure short-haul flights are replaced by sustainable alternatives. We cannot endlessly expand our road network – this will only induce demand – or replace combustion engine cars with electric vehicles. In moving traffic away from our roads, more freight must move by rail, inland waterways and sea (e.g. sustainable short-sea shipping).
  • Building the foundations of a European zero-emissions mobility industry, which is able to meet the increasing demand for alternatives to combustion engines and charging infrastructure both for cars, vans, buses and trucks, but also boost supply for the rail sector. This will be accompanied with re skilling programmes, providing new career opportunities to workers leaving the fossil fuel-based transport sector.


The immediate response to the crisis has shown that, too often, conservative stakeholders still see “the environment” as an external, supplementary issue, that can be ignored and set aside when “serious” things happen, thus entirely ignoring the systemic problems which contributed to the crisis at hand. On the contrary, it is time to use the European Green Deal and its related strategies as a basis, a template, for the reconstruction to come. These strategies, with precise targets and linked regulatory reviews are needed now, not when the crisis is over and most member states and stakeholders have already started making their own disparate plans of recovery. In particular, the low price of oil should be taken as an opportunity to end any fossil fuel subsidies, including gas, whether direct (through infrastructure of state aid) or indirect (through tax exemptions). Any attack on current or upcoming EU environmental standards or targets should be seriously condemned. Strict rules on the interaction between the fossil fuel industry and policy-makers must be put in place, as they already exist for tobacco companies. EU institutions and Member States should interact with the fossil fuel industry only when and to the extent strictly necessary to enable them to effectively regulate the fossil fuel industry and its activity.