EU pledges to stay green in virus recovery

The EU wants the bloc to help Europe become the world’s first climate neutral continent, but campaigners remain sceptical. (AFP)
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Updated 29 May 2020

EU pledges to stay green in virus recovery

  • To help economies from the 27-nation bloc bounce back as quick as possible

BRUSSELS: The European Commission pledged on Thursday to stay away from fossil-fueled projects in its coronavirus recovery strategy, and to stick to its target of making Europe the first climate neutral continent by the middle of the century, but environmental groups said they were unimpressed.

To weather the deep recession triggered by the pandemic, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has proposed a €1.85 trillion ($2 trillion) package consisting of a revised long-term budget and a recovery fund, with 25 percent of the funding set aside for climate action.

To help economies from the 27-nation bloc bounce back as quick as possible, the EU’s executive arm wants to increase a €7.5-billion ($8.25 billion) fund presented earlier this year that was part of an investment plan aiming at making the continent more environmentally friendly.

Under the commission’s new plan, which requires the approval of member states, the mechanism will be expanded to €40 billion ($44 billion) and is expected to generate another €150 billion in public and private investment. The money is designed to help coal-dependent countries weather the costs of moving away from fossil fuels.

Environmental group WWF acknowledged the commission’s efforts but expressed fears the money could go to “harmful activities such as fossil fuels or building new airports and motorways.”

“It can’t be used to move from coal to coal,” Frans Timmermans, the commission executive vice president in charge the European Green Deal, responded on Thursday. “It is unthinkable that support will be given to go from coal to coal. That is how we are going to approach the issue. That’s the only way you can ensure you actually do not harm.”

Timmermans conceded, however, that projects involving fossil fuels could sometimes be necessary, especially the use of natural gas to help move away from coal.

The commission also wants to dedicate an extra €15 billion ($16.5 billion) to an agricultural fund supporting rural areas in their transition toward a greener model.

Von der Leyen, who took office last year, has made the fight against climate change the priority of her term. Timmermans insisted that her goal to make Europe the world’s first carbon-neutral continent by 2050 remained unchanged, confirming that upgraded targets for the 2030 horizon would be presented by September.

Reacting to the executive arm’s recovery plans, Greenpeace lashed out at a project it described as “contradictory at best and damaging at worst,” accusing the commission of sticking to a growth-driven mentality detrimental to the environment.

“The plan includes several eye-catching green `options,’ including home renovation schemes, taxes on single-use plastic waste and the revenues of digital giants like Google and Facebook. But it does not solve the problem of existing support for gas, oil, coal, and industrial farming — some of the main drivers of a mounting climate and environmental emergency,” Greenpeace said.

“The plan also fails to set strict social or green conditions on access to funding for polluters like airlines or carmakers.”

Timmermans said the EU would keep investing in the development of emission-free public transportation, and promoting clean private transport through the EU budget.


India opens vast railway network to private players

Updated 02 July 2020

India opens vast railway network to private players

  • The 167-year-old train network carries 20 million passengers daily
  • India’s railway ministry said it would now permit businesses to run trains along 109 routes
MUMBAI: India has opened up its vast railway sector to private companies, allowing firms to operate trains on certain routes, in a bid to boost its stuttering, virus-hit economy.
The 167-year-old train network carries 20 million passengers daily but is plagued by deadly accidents, rickety infrastructure, lack of modern amenities and poor investment.
In an announcement late Wednesday, the railway ministry said it would now permit businesses to run trains along 109 routes, inviting bids from firms weeks after New Delhi opened up coal mining to the private sector.
“This is the first initiative of private investment for running passenger trains over Indian Railways network,” the ministry said in a statement.
“The objective of this initiative is to introduce modern technology rolling stock with reduced maintenance, reduced transit time, boost job creation, provide enhanced safety, provide world class travel experience to passengers,” it added.
The project will require an investment of $39.8 million and private players will have to pay the government fixed haul charges and a percentage of profits determined during the bidding process.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to privatize a range of industries that have been under state control for decades, sparking criticism from the opposition Congress party.
“Now the government is in a desperate mood to sell a great chunk of one of our largest national asset #IndianRailways,” Congress politician Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury tweeted.
“Privatization cannot be construed as a panacea of railways malady,” he added.
The tottering network is notorious for accidents, with 15,000 passengers killed every year according to a 2012 government report that described the deaths as a “massacre.”
Asia’s third-largest economy has been clobbered by the pandemic and a months-long lockdown, growing at its slowest pace in at least two decades last quarter.
The shutdown, which put millions out of work overnight, is widely expected to plunge the country into recession.
Fears for the economy prompted the government to allow many businesses to resume operations starting last month despite an ongoing increase in infections, which have now crossed 600,000.
Even before Modi announced the lockdown in late March, the economy was struggling to gain traction with sluggish growth, record unemployment and a flurry of bad loans making banks reluctant to lend.