Divided we fall

Everybody accepts that radical changes are needed to cut greenhouse gas emissions and put Europe on a path to sustainable development. The problem is there is little agreement on how best to achieve those goals.
Policy think-tank Friends of Europe has recently published a report on a high-level summit it held in Brussels in June under the heading “In Search of Global Green Policies”. More than 400 stakeholders from across Europe and beyond took part in the event. They agreed action was needed, but there was a “comprehensive lack of consensus on what that action should be”.
Participants agreed that behavioural changes in Europe’s 500m residents are required. But how can they best be achieved? From eco-labels to taxation, the scope for action is unlimited. And yet, there is a fear the public may not share its political leaders’ enthusiasm for new initiatives that affect people’s lifestyles. A KPMG survey earlier this year revealed that, while 88 per cent of respondents said they were concerned about the environment and 74 per cent said they would buy green products, only 15 per cent did so.
As prices of food staples and energy continue to soar while global economic prospects do not improve, it appears increasingly unlikely that EU citizens would voluntarily embark on a costly mission to reduce their environmental footprint. Or that they would appreciate their governments pushing them to do so.
And yet it is exactly in the current circumstances that the best opportunities for promoting sustainable living could be found. Insulating people’s homes and taking other energy-saving measures would not only reduce bills but also create jobs and bring money and jobs to Europe, argued Nick Mabey, chief executive of independent organisation Third Generation Environmentalism (E3G). “As a proposition,” he said, “I do not know what we can give the political classes that is better than this.”
Companies, for their part, are producing mixed results. Some sectors, such as carmakers, are making painfully slow progress towards lowering their products’ CO2 emissions. Others, such as global IT firm Epson (see page 20), have made bold commitments to slash their environmental footprint and are looking to profoundly change their business model to do so.
While the EU is generally acknowledged as the global leader on climate change, it has to deal carefully with concerns about its competitive positioning. European leadership should not drive industries out of Europe, warned Martina Bianchini of Dow Europe. “We have a global issue and we need a global solution and global mechanisms to address it,” she said.
Green policies are good for the economy and security, but they require tough choices to be made, according to E3G’s Mr Mabey. “We need politicians to be a bit bolder,” he added. The difficulties politicians have encountered in walking the walk are exemplified in the summit participants’ widespread perception that EU policy makers “bought into the rhetoric of sustainability but then failed to implement it”.
As activities in the European institutions resume this autumn, it is vital that all sectors of EU society pull together to identify and properly support those solutions that stand the best chance of boosting the EU’s environmental and economic performance.
Discussions on July’s sustainable production and consumption package are only just beginning. It is important that the focus on achieving the changes needed is not lost in the horse-trading between different social agents, political groups and industry allies.
Nadia Weekes, editor

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