18 March, 2007
The fifth European Business Summit, held from 15-16 March in Brussels, showed EU business leaders in an optimistic mood about the Union’s economic upturn but worried and confused about climate change.
After 5 years of gloom and doom about the loss of competitiveness and economic growth, there was a much more upbeat atmosphere amongst the Summit’s participant as regards the health of Europe’s economy. Notwithstanding the EU’s institutional crisis after the rejection of its draft constitution by France and the Netherlands and the ensuing impasse to reconnect to its citizens, European businesses seem to be doing better than ever as potential economic growth of 2.7% for 2007 is predicted.
But a new “fever” has caught EU corporate leaders: climate change and its political fall-out. The awareness that climate change is happening and needs to be addressed has now clearly penetrated European business boards and is changing the way business looks at its economic and social environment. Even a conference session on jobs and growth turned into a debate on climate change quickly.
The session on energy and climate change, which I moderated, highlighted the raised sense of urgency amongst business leaders. Three CEOs (from Swedish energy company Vattenfall, Germany’s EnBW and French Veolia) expressed their fears and underlined the need to act quickly and globally.
But many questions were left unanswered as these same leaders are still struggling to reconcile the competitiveness paradigm of their traditional economic thinking and their business practices with the “spaceship Earth” paradigm shift needed to solve the new global challenges: climate change and energy insecurity.
Moreover, the current “climate change fever” amongst politicians and business leaders might distract from the other global crisis: that of fast dwindling natural resources. It is clear that the danger of “energy scarcity” has not yet reached political agendas with the same kind of urgency although occasionally price rises, new tension in the Middle East and Russia’s new-found energy power play grabs media headlines. Politicians seem as yet unable to imagine a world where new power struggles and even wars over the last remaining natural resources will start overshadowing the current climate change rage. Increasing energy nationalism, a growing gap between oil and gas demand and supply plus dramatic power struggles in the energy-sensitive world areas (Saudi-Arabia, Iraq-Iran, China) will soon enough unveil the other face of our current world energy predicament.
The most important obstacle to finding solutions to both energy crises is the lack of effective global governance structures able to manage the need to find fair and equitable solutions. As long as national sovereignty undermines global cooperation and competitiveness remains the mantra of global economics, mankind will be continuing on its route to partial self-destruction.Author : Willy De Backer