A team of researchers from Melbourne recently proved the 1972 “Limits to Growth” prophetic: our planet is indeed finite and we’re now seriously running out of time. Another revealing development was the recent Eurobarometer survey on the attitudes of Europeans towards the environment, which revealed that: “[t]he financial crisis, from which Europe appears to be slowly and partially emerging, did not reduce the focus of European citizens on environmental issues”.
People’s awareness and concern about the finite nature of our planet’s environmental boundaries now accounts for the majority, at least in the EU: protecting the environment is personally important to 95% of Europeans, whereas 77% agree that environmental problems have a direct effect on their daily lives. So, where should environment and ecologically sustainable development stand in the agenda of the new European Commission under President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker?
It is rather unfortunate that the new Commission does not reflect people’s concern for a living planet. Its structure, as proposed by its new President, and the mission letters setting the agenda for the new commissioners reveal an unprecedented regression from Europe’s good track record in green policy making. Unsurprisingly, the hearing at the European Parliament of the Commissioners-designate was also an environmental fail. WWF and the Green 10 NGO alliance rightly called on the MEPs to reject the Commission: “time to take the gloves off and stop Juncker’s environmental overhaul”, urged Tony Long from Brussels, on the first day of the parliamentary hearings of the proposed Commissioners. European Parliament President Martin Schulz asked Juncker to include sustainability in the portfolio and mission of Vice-President Jyrki Katainen and explicitly include the implementation of the 7th Environmental Action Programme in the mandate of the Commissioner-designate for the environment, maritime affairs and fisheries.
The writing was already on the wall of Jose Manuel Barroso’s office: the crisis and the urge for stimulation of economic activity is a convenient excuse for backsliding on key, but “not-fit-for-growth”, environmental policies and laws. The outgoing EC President put the EU’s landmark nature conservation directives on the spot for deregulation, whereas the draft directive on environmental justice was recently withdrawn. In this manner, the EU puts aside all its groundbreaking work towards a resource efficient, innovative, resilient and jobs-rich economy, in favour of the business-as-usual model of quick and dirty growth at all costs.
In these hard times, hope rises from the streets: on September 21st, hundreds of thousands rallied in major cities, in a global People’s Climate March, and called on world leaders to take urgent political action for clean energy and a sustainable world, while over 2 million signed a global pledge calling for 100% clean power. In New York, the city-host of the September 23rd UN climate negotiations, 400,000 people flooded the streets. Europe’s big cities, London, Copenhagen, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Madrid, Brussels, Athens hosted rallies of thousands of citizens calling on governments and the EU to stand up as a global climate leader.
The environment is the vital global commons most threatened by the current policy rollback. It’s high time for the environmentally concerned majority to exit the mode of silence and voice a clear demand for resilient economies that provide a better quality of life for all, within the ecological limits of this planet.