EU Commissioner warns of imminent ‘environmental recession’

By John Parnell

Europe must not make the same mistakes it did in the run-up to the economic crisis if it is to avoid an environmental recession too.

That was the stark warning from European Environment Cmmissioner Janez Potonik at the opening of Green Week in Brussels.

Potocnik said the prevalence of short term thinking could not continue and changes to how business and industry behave would be required to avoid dangerously depleting our natural resources.

“Europe is tryng to move out of an unprecedented economic crisis, too many people are losing their jobs, poverty is rising and confidence in the future is weak,” he told the audience at the event’s opening.

Janez Poto─Źnik wants EU member states to focus on how they use existing resources more efficiently

“It would be unforgivable if we did not learn lessons from it. One important lesson is about the sustainability of our behaviour. This financial crisis resulted from unsustainable growth fuelled by financial successes.

“We borrowed to keep consuming and to keep the economy going. With hindsight we now know that was not sustainable.”

Potocnik claimed part of the problem was that the solutions required politicians to find long term answers but “we punish our politicians who make long term decisions”.

“Everything is about short term thinking but that does not work anymore in the new situation,” he added, referring to a resource constrained world.

Competitiveness

There is an ongoing debate in the EU across both climate and environment policy with call from some to aim for low ambition in both areas in order to protect the competitiveness of the European economy.

Potocnik pointed out that for air quality, the main theme of the event, the USA was in fact ahead of Europe. He added that a more considered appraisal of the situation showed that in fact, Europe stood to gain from addressing its resource use.

“We [the EU] are import dependant. We import six times more materials than we export. From 1998 to 2007 average resource prices increased 300%. If you try to ignore this then you have a problem.

“You don’t need to be an economist to see that reuse and recycle and resource efficiency makes sense. It is the only way we can compete and keep industry in Europe. Ignoring the environment is basically pushing industry out of Europe.

“Obviously it must not be easy to understand that,” he added in a sarcastic nod to some business lobby groups’ apparent loss of enthusiasm for green issues.

There were concerns recently that amendments to the wording of the EU’s 2030 climate and energy policy outlines encouraging “competitively priced energy” could work against efforts to reduce emissions.

A rejected vote in April to reform the EU’s faltering carbon market was the focus of much campaigning by the BusinessEurope lobby group. It said the plan to address the oversupply of carbon credits in the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) would increase costs for its members.

“There are a lot of companies that want this tightening of emission trading but the industry umbrella organisations are fighting against it,” said Satu Hassi, a Finnish MEP also addressing the conference.

“They managed to be in the mind of the public and the politicians as being the sole voice of business and industry. I’d like to see more lobbying from those [businesses] that have more ambition,” she added.

Read more on: Climate finance | EU |