Beyond (carbon) borders: externalising the Green Deal

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Global Europe
Beyond (carbon) borders: externalising the Green Deal


A Green Deal is great, but Europe should leave no-one behind

Enthusiasm over the European Green Deal faded fast after COVID-19 hit the continent. In the wake of the pandemic’s destruction of lives, economies and livelihoods, the EU fortified its growth strategy into a Green Recovery package worth some €1 trillion over a decade. Can the bloc’s reinvigorated commitment bring carbon-neutrality by 2050? Or will some of its sustainability goals inadvertently create catch-up problems for developing countries?

In the Friends of Europe online roundtable discussion on ‘Beyond (carbon) borders: externalising the Green Deal’, organised on 8 June 2020, participants included senior representatives from the European institutions, international banks, Brussels-based think-tanks, as well as a handful of ambassadors and financial and environmental experts from Europe, Africa and Asia.

“The Green Deal, if implemented well, will set Europe on a clear path to sustainability,” said Shada Islam, moderator and Director of Europe & Geopolitics at Friends of Europe. “But some of our partners worldwide already fear they may be unable to emulate it and could end up being disadvantaged by new initiatives like the EU carbon border tax.”

The moderator likened the Green Deal to the EU Single Market. This market economically benefits the bloc, but countries outside it often complain how hard it is to export goods and services to the EU. Could the Green Deal too and its increasingly ambitious climate goals, plus European calls for more local production due to the pandemic, lead to protectionism that disadvantages non-EU areas?

Many speakers agreed there is a high risk of that happening. An Indonesian expert said the country has worked to ensure that much of its timber is legally harvested in line with EU FLEGT rules. Yet Indonesian fishing boats, which compete with EU boats for tuna in the Pacific, cannot sell their own catches to the bloc’s market. The same applies for many developing companies in Asia, Africa and Latin America – where the EU’s agriculture, industry and fishing sectors are often perceived to enjoy an unfair advantage.

Don’t forget the external partners!

Speakers also noted how the EU carbon tax and food traceability systems, such as those for palm oil, are also damaging for many smallholder farmers worldwide. The EU must be more inclusive: build the Green Deal while engaging in dialogue with key trade partners.

We need more alliances and connectivity, such as the new partnerships being established between Africa and Europe, argued one participant. Others called for the EU and developing countries to aim for long-term sustainability, anchored in global solutions to international cooperation. The EU should also make sure its Free Trade Agreements are a platform for co-creating rules, rather than imposing EU rules and standards.

With the EU now determined to be CO2-neutral, concern was also raised that developing countries will struggle to keep pace. While the EU has committed €6 billion to its bioeconomy, African countries typically lack the access, funds and skills to build something similar. Likewise, although Indonesia successfully raised $2.3 billion for new green bonds for climate adaptations, few other developing countries could manage that.

The message is clear, concluded the moderator: “We must all work together, because Europe cannot save the planet alone, and ensure the Green Deal is a success beyond Europe’s borders.”



The post-pandemic world will need more than a recovery. As rebuilding the global economy gets underway, it’s important to work towards a sustainable economic transformation, using the moment to speed up investments towards a green transition in both industrialised countries and in emerging nations. Europe is looking to an updated Green Deal as it seeks to fulfil its three-decade plan to make the EU climate neutral by 2050. In a world grappling with the economic fall-out of the pandemic, the EU’s planned budgetary reallocation of almost €1tn over 10 years will have a significant impact beyond its borders. Achieving global climate targets also requires that the EU works with key partners, helping them to achieve established the goals and encouraging a green recovery.

The climate emergency is a key topic in current Europe-Africa discussions on forging a new partnership and is equally important in Europe-Asia relations. Issues to consider include the global implication of the EU’s Green Deal especially on trade and investments in sustainable energy and agriculture. Current discussions in Europe on introducing a carbon tax for instance may be seen as a way of protecting European industry, such as steel makers or cement producers from outside competition. Plans under consideration for restricting imports of palm oil have also become a major sticking point in EU relations with many partners, including Southeast Asian countries. Governments across the world, meanwhile, are also under increasing pressure from young people, environmentalists, and ‘green’ parties to move quickly to tackle the climate crisis.
This online workshop is by invitation only and will bring together a small group of experts to exchange views on the issues.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash



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