Green New Deal (GND) packages arose following the 2008 financial crash as a solution to address the imminent economic, social, and environmental challenges known as the “triple crisis”. The name refers to FDR’s New Deal policies of the 1930s, as numerous comparisons could be drawn with the economic and social difficulties faced during the Great Depression. This time round, reforms urgently needed an environmental focus. Uniting environmental and social justice, GNDs aim to lower fossil fuel dependency, safeguard biodiversity and ecosystems, reduce inequality and create green jobs.
There are many GND packages in circulation now. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey introduced a US Green New Deal into the house in 2019.
The Green New Deal for Europe
The Green New Deal for Europe (GNDE) was founded in 2019 by the Democracy in Europe Movement. Backed by politicians across Europe, including Green MP Caroline Lucas, the GNDE aims to ‘unite Europe’s communities, union, parties, and activists behind a shared vision of environmental justice’.
They argue that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need for Europe to adopt the GNDE as Europe will need a plan to recover from the subsequent economic depression. A holistic plan that prioritises people over profit could prevent a planetary breakdown and combat austerity, consequently leading Europe toward a path of environmental and social justice. According to the GNDE, new forms of social solidarity have emerged because of the pandemic, providing a foundation for the transition to their GND that puts people and communities first.
A Blueprint for Europe’s Just Transition depicts their plan to bring about ‘urgent, system-wide reorganisation within a short time period’ for Europe. The report comprises three major initiatives: the Green Public Works, an Environmental Union and an Environmental Justice Commission. The Green Public Works (GPW) is an investment programme. Green bonds issued by the European Investment Bank will finance the GNDE. The Environmental Union () oversees law and regulation, while the Environmental Justice Commission (EJC) is an independent research body tasked with monitoring and advising EU authorities and practices.
The role of civil society
The GNDE envisages a large role for civil society, contending that ‘Europe’s green transition will not be top-down’ and a GND should ‘empower citizens and their communities to make decisions that shape their future’. Citizen’s assemblies and stronger local governments will be able to make meaningful decisions regarding the development of their communities. For all jobs generated under the GPW, an Economic Democracy Directive will be mandatory, giving workers greater rights such as representation in all capital savings, pensions, and worker funds. Tenant and resident associations will be granted increased decision-making powers, while cooperatives and community projects will aid in the localisation of economic activity and citizen empowerment. The GNDE will implement community-owned agricultural models which aim to prevent environmental destruction by subsidised corporate landowners.
Intersectional justice is a priority. The GNDE promises to combat discrimination against minorities, achieving an inclusive ecological transition. Their report even integrated public opinion following community consultation, proving their commitment to putting civil society at the heart of their GND. Moreover, the EJC’s structure is reliant on public engagement, as the results of people’s panels will inform their activities.
The role of the state
Regarding the state’s role, the GNDE believes that Europe’s new and renewable energy systems should be owned by the people. They also propose universal free public education, healthcare and transport. The creation of a Mobility Cohesion Fund would improve Europe’s transport systems. Municipal public transport would be free or at a modest cost that does not discourage use, and a fleet of public taxis and car-pooling services would be built to ensure inclusive mobility. To develop public wealth, the government will have a larger role in investment and asset ownership, and the state will invest in innovative green technology. The GNDE places greater emphasis on the state, rather than the private sector, in reaping the rewards of this technology. The proceeds will be used to fund more innovation, which will benefit society by freeing them from the long and demanding working week.
The role of the markets
Private enterprises who fit with the GNDE’s goals will receive GPW funding, indicating that the deal recognises the role that the private sector can play in achieving environmental and social justice. They argue that whether energy is in public or private hands, basic environmental standards must be established, but private enterprises must reduce their emissions or face being outcompeted by publicly owned community initiatives. The GNDE advocates for a move away from GDP as a progress indicator toward own that considers human and environmental well-being (rather than one that is inherently tied up with market value). This viewpoint is consistent with earlier arguments made by environmentalists and economists that GDP ignores social and environmental costs, as well as income inequality.
The GNDE aims to support local communities through deposit-taking and lending, and it sees cooperative banks, farmer-driven financing in agriculture and credit unions as key players. Instead of material consumption motivated by the desire to accumulate wealth, the GNDE envisions a society centred on public prosperity based on shared goods and zero-carbon activities such as education. In addition, the GNDE aspires to buy and renovate vacant private housing for public use. They aim to increase the number of buildings constructed by local and national governments while reducing the involvement of private developers and finance. The GPW will make any new investments in energy grids and other utilities with the goal of nationalising them, preventing private corporations from profiting and supporting cost-savings for households. They believe that job insecurity, inequality and unsustainability are outcomes of a global system that encourages the transfer of wealth and resources based on market efficiency principles.
Instead of strengthening large corporations, the will seek to preserve the interests of workers, communities and the environment. The also incorporates a Common Food Policy, which aims to eliminate the environmental costs that render nutritional food production unsustainable, as well as malnutrition and marginalisation of small-scale farmers in the global North and South. They claim that these costs are due to ‘market externalities’ in which the market has failed to promote resource efficiency and fair distribution.
They also do not believe geoengineering (deliberate large-scale intervention in the Earth's natural systems to counteract climate change) is a good idea, calling it an ineffective solution to the environmental crisis. Such technocentric optimism avoids addressing the root causes of the climate crisis and could lead to ‘private monopoly rights on modifying the climate’. George Monbiot and Naomi Klein, both authors and environmental activists, agree with this approach. They argue that rather than relying on a technical fix, we should address our own behaviour, such as reducing domestic consumption. Finally, the GNDE claims that the EJC would allow ‘society to regain public authority over the international monetary system, to subordinate it to the interests of society and the ecosystem’.
In short, the GNDE does not envision a large role for the markets, and instead places a heavy emphasis on the state and civil society, integrating top-down and bottom-up approaches. It even goes as far as to declare that GDP should not be used as a measure and that public-private partnerships should be avoided for the most part. The GNDE demonstrates that they recognise that the market can play a part in attaining environmental and social justice with sufficient regulation. However, they appear to be sceptical of market-based approaches employed to address the climate crisis.
Why do we need a green new deal?
The ‘planetary boundaries framework’ defines a ‘safe operating space for humanity’. The framework depicts global environmental thresholds that will have severe repercussions for human wellbeing if crossed. The boundaries lie where the green and orange zones intersect. Climate change has reached the zone of uncertainty. Therefore, there is an increasing risk of impacts to the earth system.
The GNDE proposes what we should do moving forward to stay in the ‘safe zone’. The is tasked with creating a ‘safe operating space’ for Europe’s economies. Thus, Europe must enact legislation that commits all EU member states to reach net-zero GHG emissions as well as legislation that protects the earth’s natural systems. Economic development must occur within the planetary boundaries.
COVID-19 has provided us with a window of opportunity for radical change. Rather than returning to “normal”, we should consider possible solutions which tackle our planetary emergency. Biodiversity loss is a key driver of zoonotic outbreaks. Thus, global environmental change must be addressed if we are to avoid another pandemic. The response to Coronavirus has shown that transformative environmental governance that addresses multiple, interconnected problems such as inequality, unemployment and climate change is not only possible, but also vital if we, and the planet, are to continue to prosper.
If you fancy joining the campaign for a Green New Deal for Europe, you can become a member of the Democracy in Europe movement.