What a “Green recovery” means for Belgium and the Greens

A report on the keynote session for the 33rd Council of the European Green Party

, by A.L. Ashkenaz

What a “Green recovery” means for Belgium and the Greens
Petra de Sutter at ILGA conference 2018 Political Town Hall Sparrow (麻雀)

“Transition” seems to be the keyword of the day, at least for Petra De Sutter. In the keynote session for the 33rd Council of the European Green Party, Belgian deputy prime minister De Sutter highlighted the recent successes of the European Green Party and the key challenges they need to address. Most importantly, she iterated how they aim to transition out of the covid-19 pandemic and into a green recovery.

What is this “green recovery”?

A green recovery is a group of plans and proposals adopted by companies and countries alike in the aftermath of the pandemic. Covid-19 created a pandemic that shut down many businesses for almost a year, creating an economic recession and sending millions into unemployment. These proposed plans are designed to ensure that the recovery from the pandemic is done through investments in policies that reduce global warming and help mitigate climate change. This idea has broad support across the world, including the UN, the UK, the US, the EU and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Each country set up their own plans for a green recovery, based on their impact on the country and the feasibility of the plan. These plans include the reduction of the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas, and also an investment into green energy like solar power and offshore wind. Other topics of focus include transport, agriculture, local government, finance and corporate governance, employment, and investment. There were even suggestions of investment in nuclear power as a clean renewable source of energy.

According to the OECD “delivering a green recovery is vital for tackling the urgent and interconnected challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss.” According to their data, OECD countries and key partner economies have so far allocated USD 336 billion to environmentally positive measures within their COVID-19 recovery packages. While it seems like a lot, it only amounts to 17% of the total money put into recovery from the pandemic.

Belgian’s green achievements so far

The deputy prime minister then highlighted the important work done by each of the ministers from the Groen party. She credited Zakia Khattabi, the Minister of the Climate, the Environment, Sustainable Development and Green Deal for spearheading the transition to a greener economy after the pandemic. She then praised the Minister of Energy, Tinne Van der Straeten by saying “she will invest in renewables and really make the difference in energy transitions”. Finally, she highlighted the efforts made by Georges Gilkinet, the Minister of Mobility for “putting people out of the cars and into the trains”.

Petra De Sutter then went on to talk about the achievements made by the Greens ever since they joined the Belgian government on the 1st of October, 2020. According to her claims, they were responsible for making sure that half of all the projects are green projects, despite constituting only 25% of the government. They raised the federal CO2 emissions target to a 55% reduction by 2030. Lastly, she promised a fund of 750 million euros for “investment into businesses that are part of the green transition.”

The Groen party has its obstacles however back at home. While they are part of the Belgian government, and hold several ministerial positions important to climate, they form part of the opposition in the Flemish parliament, which is currently headed by the New Flemish Alliance, the Flemish nationalist party. In April 2020, they refused to reaffirm Europe’s commitment to a Green Deal, which provided a climate focused economic plan. This posed a problem because as a Federation, all three of their bodies- Brussels, Wallonia, and Flanders must be in agreement.

While some countries like the UK are investing more in nuclear energy to transition from fossil fuels, the Belgian government decided to move away from nuclear as well as fossil fuels. “The important element in our policy is energy… we have put in an agreement with the government that we will step out of nuclear in Belgium,” said De Sutter. Belgium is collaborating with countries like Denmark in investing in wind offshore.

Groen’s five-point plan

Petra De Sutter then laid down five points that she believed would “win back European hearts” in the upcoming elections across the continent. The first two points of which were related to sustainability, energy poverty and the digital divide. “After COVID [there’s] no business as usual. Let’s not return to the old habits. If the recovery is not sustainable it will not work, we do not only support green policies, but also social policies,” she said.

For her third point to win elections, De Sutter stressed on healthcare post-pandemic. “It’s not the private healthcare that will help us in a pandemic,” she said, stressing the importance of investing in public healthcare. She criticised the “decades of privatisation in the Belgian health sector” and promised a change if Greens were in power. She also spoke on the importance of good healthcare across the world. “The weakest link of the chain determines its strength. We have to do more to make sure that the rest of the world has access to vaccines,” she said.

Next, the deputy minister stressed that she wanted to focus on inclusive policies. She wants to fight to bring more women into important positions and break the glass ceiling. She stressed the need for ensuring that both men and women have a good work-life balance. She praised the state secretary for equal opportunities, Sarah Schlitz for reviving an anti-racism programme that has been stalled for 20 years. Here she also criticised Poland and Hungary for racial discrimination and women’s rights, saying “we should be present there in those countries. The Greens are the ones fighting for just causes, for human rights, for gender rights, and for LGBT rights.”

Finally, she spoke on the importance of investing in young people. She urged adults to listen to the children and teens that held school strikes and climate marches across the world to hold governments accountable. They also want to change the voting age from 16 to 18.

While the Greens have promised a lot and made ambitious plans for a green recovery, it will be interesting to see if they have the power to materialise them. While they are part of the government in Brussels, they may face fierce opposition in the Flemish parliament, which could hamper their ability to lead the country out of the pandemic, and towards a greener future.

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