A farmer sprays cowpea plants with insecticide. Photo by: IITA / CC BY-NC

BRUSSELS — The European Union should do more to track which pesticides banned in Europe are being used in low-income countries, the bloc’s top development official said Tuesday.

“EU development assistance must align with the Green Deal, putting social justice and equity at the core of climate response programs.”

— Isabelle Brachet, EU advocacy adviser, ActionAid

“To be very open and frank, I think that actually there is no comprehensive information on pesticides banned in the EU that are still in use in the ACP [African, Caribbean, and Pacific] countries,” Jutta Urpilainen, the new commissioner for international partnerships, told members of the European Parliament at a committee hearing in Brussels. “We need to work on that, and [that] needs to be part of the Green Deal package.”

In December, the European Commission unveiled its European Green Deal, aiming for an economy with net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. However, aside from a vague commitment in the initial blueprint for the EU to “use its diplomatic and financial tools to ensure that green alliances are part of its relations with Africa and other partner countries and regions,” there has been little detail on what the plan means for EU foreign policy.

Urpilainen repeated the idea of green alliances Tuesday, describing these as “kind of regional alliances where we try to look for several countries to work together under the Green Deal umbrella.” And she said the external dimension of the Green Deal would be one of the priorities for the commission this year as it prepares its aid spending for the 2021-27 period.

“When we are starting to prepare the programming, we will definitely focus on climate, migration, and food security,” the former Finnish finance minister said.

Speaking about the Green Deal earlier this month, Sandra Kramer, director of EU-AU relations for West and East Africa, said that “for the moment, the African continent has 4% of CO2 emissions worldwide. ... We should not have a very quick and rapid development of the continent be to the detriment of the concerns that we have in the Green Deal.”

The commission did not respond Tuesday to requests for more detail on how the regional “green alliances” will work or how Urpilainen and the EU’s development department, DEVCO, plan to address pesticide use throughout ACP countries.

December’s Green Deal document spoke of the need for strategic plans in Europe with “an increased level of ambition to reduce significantly the use and risk of chemical pesticides, as well as the use of fertilisers and antibiotics” but did not mention efforts to reduce pesticide use outside the bloc.

Michèle Rivasi, a French Greens MEP who posed a question on the topic to Urpilainen at Tuesday’s hearing, cited research that pesticides were responsible for 200,000 acute poisoning deaths each year, with 99% of fatalities occurring in lower-income countries with weak health, safety, and environmental regulations.

Regarding her response, Rivasi told Devex that “what [Urpilainen] said is that there aren’t enough data and it’s necessary to do studies. That’s already not bad because it allows me to officially ask for a study — whereas up until now, when I asked for a study, it wasn’t a priority.”

Isabelle Brachet, EU advocacy adviser at ActionAid, added that “Commissioner Urpilainen’s comments suggest the EU is starting to recognize the importance of shifting agriculture globally away from reliance on environmentally harmful agrochemicals towards approaches that work with nature instead of against it.

“But to really make agriculture fit for purpose in an era of climate change, the EU also needs to firmly support climate-resilient agroecological approaches in its development work overseas and at international platforms. … EU development assistance must align with the Green Deal, putting social justice and equity at the core of climate response programs.”

About the author

  • Vince Chadwick

    Vince Chadwick is the Brussels Correspondent for Devex. He covers the EU institutions, member states, and European civil society. A law graduate from Melbourne, Australia, he was social affairs reporter for The Age newspaper, before moving to Europe in 2013. He covered breaking news, the arts and public policy across the continent, including as a reporter and editor at POLITICO Europe.