EU can sow seeds of peace through Green Deal

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The European Union’s Green Deal could be a glue that brings us together: it should be used to build peace in neighbouring countries, writes Peter Läderach.

Peter Läderach leads CGIAR’s Climate Security programme and the Climate-Smart Technologies and Practices Flagship of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS)

The coronavirus pandemic slowed so much of our current affairs. Sadly, it has done little to douse the ‘ring of fire’ that surrounds the European neighbourhood.

Turkey and Russia may be inching towards a potential ceasefire in Libya, but the conflict ravages on. Likewise, in war-torn Syria, the civil war continues unabated. The added burdens brought by the pandemic has pushed Syrian civilians to the brink of starvation.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) confirmed last week that rising violence across the Sahel – particularly in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger – caused a 62% spike in deaths and forced more than a million people to flee their homes in 2019 alone.

The fires of the Moria refugee camp in Greece and rising tensions with Turkey over Eastern Mediterranean gas fields mean that five years on from the migration crisis, Europe’s sticking plaster solutions look like they are starting to peel off.

The EU Commission must invest in the root causes of conflict and migration to effectively support peace, and the European Green Deal is one of the best instruments it can deploy.

It’s often assumed the conflicts we see today are driven by a cocktail of politics, geostrategy and even ideology. But our understanding of the complex triggers of instability and violence show that climate change, environmental degradation and the struggle to control a finite pool of natural resources are increasingly important factors.

The disruptive effects of climate change on food systems are putting millions at dire risk of food insecurity, and this is all too often a pathway towards conflict and violence. This is particularly acute in many countries across the Middle East as well as in North and Sub-Saharan Africa. Its effects on the African continent – which is warming faster than any other – are particularly profound.

In her State of the Union speech, Ursula Von der Leyen upped the ante in the Commission’s climate ambitions, now looking to reduce EU emissions by at least 55% from 1990 levels by 2030. This revises an earlier target of 40%.

This heightened ambition is welcome, but if Von der Leyen’s Commission want to promote peacebuilding and socio-economic development in the European neighbourhood, then the conclusion is simple. The EU must put the transformation of food systems at the very heart of its strategy.

The EU’s Green Deal – through which it hopes to mobilise at least €100 billion for climate-friendly economic development between 2021 and 2027 – is a unique opportunity to align the objectives and incentives set out in Europe’s COVID-19 recovery plans with climate-friendly development and food systems transformation in Europe’s neighbourhood.

The need for green investment is urgent. The cash promised by world leaders to pay for the UN’s ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) falls $2.5 trillion short every year. This means trillions less for green infrastructure, energy, food security, agriculture, rural livelihoods, climate change adaptation and mitigation, health and education.

The Green Deal could help align a small but sufficient portion of private capital invested daily in capital markets towards achieving the SDGs. Encouragingly, the volume of private sector investment that integrate ‘environmental, social and governance’ (ESG) factors has increased dramatically to $22.8 trillion so we should capitalise on this appetite for financial investments with social returns.

The EU’s ambition to decarbonise by 2050 – and the consequential need for cleaner energy – could also drive investment in renewables provided by African and Middle Eastern partners, providing livelihoods that counter the draw of radicalisation.

The European Union remains the world’s biggest market for agri-foods, and 2019 was a record year with a trade surplus of €31.9 billion. Its sheer size means it can almost dictate or at least heavily influence standards in markets across the world. It can use its influence to drive transformation all along the food supply chain – from smallholder farming to large scale Agri-Tech food production.

Setting food waste and recycling standards for the EU’s half a billion consumers can also drive a dramatic step change in how we encourage a more circular economy. This will have knock-on effects on supply and demand that will ricochet all the way back through food systems, while also helping Europe to reduce its carbon footprint.

The EU needs to break down institutional silos, ensuring coherence between internal policies and external action so it can better address the complex interlinkages between climate change, food systems, peace, migration and prosperity.

From my own experience, I see a stark need to make humanitarians, peacebuilders, climate scientists, agriculturalists and investors work together more effectively. The European Green Deal could be the glue that brings us together.

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