8th Mar 2021


Why EU beats US on green pandemic recovery

  • The EU recovery package comes just months after the United States passed its own historic stimulus package, totalling $2 trillion [€1.7trn] to bolster the economy (Photo: Friends of the Earth Scotland)

While the most notable difference between the European Union and the United States in the wake of coronavirus pandemic response is the number of reported cases and COVID-related death counts, there is another significant difference, namely, the focus on environmental issues associated with recovery.

Last month, the European Union reached a deal on a €750bn recovery package, designed to assist the 27-members of the EU bloc facing pandemic impacts.

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  • Notably absent in the United States' recovery response, however, is the lack of concrete environmentally-focused measures in comparison to the EU's response (Photo:

The EU recovery package includes €390bn in relief aid grants targeted for member states hit the hardest by the coronavirus outbreak, such as Italy and Spain, with €360bn in low-interest loans available for EU members.

Measures were already in place to ensure that environmental aspects of the recovery effort were taken into account as the EU's plan outlined that they would "comply with the objective of EU climate neutrality by 2050 and contribute to achieving the Union's new 2030 climate targets, which will be updated by the end of the year."

The European Union's recovery efforts in the face of the pandemic's economic consequences not only funding under the Next Generation EU (NGEU) plan, as well as a budget package to be renewed from 2021-2027 known as the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), establishes four key, concrete aspects of long-term environmental improvement efforts to be financed.

The first aspect is investing in clean energy technology advancements.

This measure includes fast-tracking the work of clean energy producers to upscale the immediate production of clean hydrogen, as well as boosting renewable energy uptake from ocean-based wind turbines.

Second, the package targets development and sustainability in rural areas by introducing €15bn in reinforcement for the European Agricultural Fund, designed to make structural changes in biodiversity and localised supply chains for agricultural producers.

Third, the recovery package helps implement cleaner logistics and transportation systems by providing funding for one million electric vehicle charging stations and improving public transportations within cities and across regions.

Finally, the plan puts €40bn into the Just Transition Fund, which allocates grants to member states to allow communities historically built around fossil fuel-based industry and provide economic diversification, investment in new industry that is less carbon intensive, and jobs training for citizens.

Overall, these measures not only provide concrete measures to help communities and member states rebuild economies in the wake of pandemic-related disruptions, but also create recovery funds designed to improve long-term environmental efforts and economic transitions.

This recovery package from the EU comes just months after the United States passed its own historic stimulus package, totalling $2 trillion [€1.7trn], to bolster the economy.

The major stimulus package passed by Congress set out a number of pathways towards holding up the American economy as massive layoffs and business closings occurred throughout the country.

One important aspect of the recovery response package was boosting unemployment benefits as a record number of unemployment claims were filed while businesses laid off millions of workers in the weeks following the official designation of the pandemic.

The stimulus package also helped a number of industries, particularly health care providers and airlines, which received $100bn and $58bn, respectively, to protect against economic collapse as a result of shifts in spending and behavioural patterns.

Missing Green measures?

A separate bill also passed through Congress, granting loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to aid small businesses in weathering the economic downturn.

Notably absent in the United States' recovery response, however, is the lack of concrete environmentally-focused measures in comparison to the EU's response.

Yet, the coronavirus pandemic has caused significant harm to renewable energy jobs in the United States and the country continues to struggle with reducing environmental impact.

In March and April alone, the clean energy sector in the United States had 594,347 unemployment filings, representing 17.8 percent of jobs in the sector.

While the reduced travel and production across the world during the pandemic has resulted in reduced emissions throughout most countries, pollution in the United States has not seen a dramatic decrease in many areas, even with vehicle traffic heavily reduced, as coal and petrochemical facility emissions remain a major piece to the pollutant puzzle in the country.

While the European Union and United States are different governmental institutions, their divergence in recovery response as it relates to both short- and long-term environmental impact reduction efforts is striking.

The EU established explicit funding for addressing issues such sustainable development in rural communities, electric vehicles, clean energy production, and biodiversity, as part of their recovery package, seeking to aim efforts both at stabilizing countries currently struggling and considering aims of durable improvement in reducing environmental harm.

By contrast, the United States recovery focused on a number of important issues, including unemployment benefits and funding for health care providers, but lacked any programs directed towards addressing pollution, renewable energy industries, and clean technology improvements.

This is concerning, as the United States continues to lead the globe in per capita greenhouse gas emission, and with no comprehensive plan for environmental action, it will remain difficult for the country to make progress.

Moving forward, the United States legislative and executive branches should look towards the plans and actions of the European Union for improving sustainable environmental impact reduction efforts.

The stark differences in pandemic recovery response efforts between the two governmental bodies has already illuminated underlying issues of environmental policy progress in the United States.

Author bio

Dan Ziebarth is a research fellow at the Carey Institute, a non-partisan policy institute affiliated with Wagner College and a doctoral student in the department of political science at George Washington University.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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