But what does this really mean and how should it look in reality?
The following three points will set Europe up for a sustainable recovery by providing opportunities to companies that have been going above and beyond for the environment.
One, regulatory stability.
Europe has chosen to take a global leadership role on sustainability and crafted a whole legislative framework to support that. EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen calls it “our generations’ defining task.”
Business has counted on this direction of travel, with many basing their investment decisions on it.
So, if we ever want to capitalise on these “investments”, the EU should not delay nor backtrack on any of its green ambitions.
We are well beyond the point of no return so any compromise would lead us to a halfway house, which is a lose-lose.
That would seriously impact the credibility of the EU as a market-maker. It would also affect Europe’s sustainability frontrunners if policy-makers no longer support access to market for their sustainable products and services.
For society as a whole, it would be even worse. It would mean a definite goodbye to achieving the Paris climate targets in a market-led, relatively non-disruptive way.
An average global temperature rise above 1.5 or 2°C creates risks society cannot handle. This dwarfs the fall-out of Covid-19.
Many need support in the current situation – and this certainly applies to sustainable frontrunners.
So far, Europe has stepped up to the plate.
Thanks to all those dedicated, hard-working-from-home EU officials, MEPs, and so on, the EU has done what it can to soften up state-aid requirements, issue unprecedented defence mechanisms against foreign takeovers, devise ambitious recovery plans and alliances – and this is all next to the work they normally do.
However, the EU must ensure taxpayers’ money is used in a sustainable, future-proof way.
Barring bailed-out companies from paying dividends and bonuses is a good start, now it should also stick to its own principles of the Sustainable Finance Taxonomy.
That would really help the EU (and its front-runner companies) leapfrog ahead in its ambition of becoming the global leader for the primary issue of the future: Sustainability.
Covid-19 gives us a foretaste of what a climate emergency could look like, as did the Australian bushfires. Remember those?
They make one thing clear: the environment, our common home, needs fixing and we cannot do that without the audacious women and men who will bring the sustainable innovations needed to meet the Paris targets.
Yes, we will need sustainable frontrunners, pioneers, challengers of the status quo and we should stop seeing them as a threat, but rather, start appreciating them, rewarding them, and giving them standing in regulatory processes. Letting them set the norms and standards.
The ‘Top-Runner’ programme in Japan proves how this can lift up entire industries.
The technology race is still open, and this is the EU’s best chance to catch the latest mega trends and lead on it globally. Now, more than ever, we need sustainable innovation: ‘Made in the EU’.
So, let the Circular Economy Action Plan be our leitmotiv when it says that “the performance of front-runners in sustainability should progressively become the norm”.