Behind its "Green Deal" Europe Outsources its Pollution

Updated: Nov 22

As an important importer of farm products, Europe boosts Deforestation and Soil Poisoning.

Less than a year ago, I wrote an article extracted from my TED Talk presentation, basically stating that our dear planet Earth was doing good. At least, better than we thought. I concluded this article by saying: “Even though all of these are great news for our planet, it has happened because we all made an effort”. However, as I read more and more about this matter, I realised that making efforts was sometimes not enough. We have to care about the consequences of our actions. “Do they really help?” not just about the act. Here’s an example of what I mean with the efforts made by Europe with its Green Deal.

Agriculture situation in Europe

The European Green Deal signed in December 2019 aims to get Europe carbon neutral by 2050. One of the main objectives to achieve this goal is to reduce the pollution in the agriculture sector. However, Europe is heavily dependent on foreign agriculture: in 2019, it imported 20% of the harvest (approx. 118 megatons) and 60% of their total consumption of meat and dairy products (45 megatons). During the last 18 months, Europe has signed commercial agreements concerning agricultural products with multiple states, among which a lot use pesticides, herbicide and GMO that are not allowed in the European Union.

Moving away pollution instead of reducing it

According to Nature, a renowned European magazine, the EU simply outsources the pollution created by its consumption of farm products. Here’s a concrete example, between 1990 and 2014, the surface covered by forest increased by 13 millions of hectares in the EU. While in the world, 11 million have disappeared to make space for fields where food is grown to be exported to … Europe.

“¾ of the deforestation is linked to the production of oleaginous in Brazil and in Indonesia. Those are regions that host exceptional biodiversity and essential carbon wells that could help fight against climate change”, Nature explains.

What works in Europe doesn’t work everywhere

The European Green Deal sets ambitious objectives for European agriculture: less than 20% of chemical fertiliser, less than 50% of pesticides, a quarter of production converted to organic by 2030, 3 million trees planted and the restoration of 25.000 km of river.

However, the farm products imported in Europe from other coutries have to respect less strict norms. Foreign companies can be awarded a certification, but there are no constraints whatsoever regarding sustainable agriculture.

“The pesticides rates […] have been multiplied by 2 in some crops in the United States over the last 10 years. Europe’s partners use 34 kg of fertiliser for each ton of soja when Europe’s farmers are limited to 13 kg.” States Nature.

An unfair competition

This phenomenon outlines two significant problems. On the one hand, Europeans farmers face unfair competition from their foreign counterparts. All those Europeans norms and regulations raise obvious yield issues for producers, and consequently, they are unable to match prices with their competitors. Moreover, countries that relied on agricultural products see their trade balance founder. On the other hand, while policy-makers congratulate themselves in speeches in Europe for the pollution they suppress, they actually just move it from Europe to Brazil, China, USA and Indonesia (about which I wrote an article).

The European Green Deal can’t work if it’s alone. Solving the climate change crisis is a global issue, and every country in the world has to take its fair share of the challenge. Even if it might sound utopian, we are the generation that can change that, the first generation that is fully aware of the challenge but also the first generation that might suffer from climate change’s consequences. Our action starts in our daily life, but we can make it even more significant with the skills and the network we have. Let’s give it a shot!

Hugo Amat.