12 June, 2007
“Past lessons, future challenges” is the overall title of this year’s Green Week organised from 12 to 15 June in Brussels and was also the topic of the first high-level opening session this morning.
Commission President Barroso started the session with a remarkably optimistic evaluation of the recent G8-meeting and a positive picture of EU environmental policies. The fact that the Portuguese Commission President was present for the first time ever in Green Week is probably a good indication that in the last year there has been a serious shift in thinking within the European Commission. The Barroso commission which started its mandate under the banner of competitiveness and economic growth has clearly opened its eyes to the challenge of global warming, although its “overarching” strategy, the sustainable development strategy, has not made too much progress. Mr Barroso still has a long way to go if he wants to move from Kyoto to Johannesburg.
The President’s positive evaluation of the G8 outcome proves my point. “The G8 has crossed the Rubicon“, said Barroso. Maybe it did, but to go where? The real proof will come in Indonesia, Bali in December when the world community will have the chance to show if it REALLY can agree on serious climate change policies beyond 2012. Former UNEP chief Klaus Töpfer was more realistic on the G8 result: “It was the best we could have but it was not what we need“.
Former environment commissioner Wallström (now in charge of the EU’s communication strategy presented her vision of a sustainable Europe. “The quest for sustainability will be lost or won in the cities“, Mrs Wallström stated. Those of you who follow this blog, will know that I agree with her one hundred percent. To all those who are now trying to influence the international UN-led climate change process, I would like to say: go local and start pressuring your Mayors!
The problem with the EU and the sustainability role for urban communities is that our cities have little or no voice in the EU’s governance architecture. When I asked this question on the place of cities in the EU, no one really gave me a satisfactory answer. Of course, I would not like Brussels starting to define EU cities’ climate change policies but good practice networks like London’s C40 certainly could do with more visibility and money from the EU. I hope to hear more from Nicky Gavron, the deputy mayor of London, about the EU’s role to help cities become greener when Nicky will be a panelist in session 13 of Green Week on Wednesday.
One of the most interesting contributions of the opening session was made by former UNEP chief Klaus Töpfer. The ex-environment minister from Germany painted a more nuanced picture when talking about the past of EU policies. “Even now environment ministers are still end of the pipe ministers”, Töpfer said, urging for more integration of policy-making. Using the example of the Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depletion, he made the point that by substituting one generation of ozone gases by another, “we created another problem” because the latest generation (F-gases) was more CO2 intensive. He also rightly underlined that the EU’s sustainable development policy is not “the most active part of EU policies”. “Where is the sustainable consumption and production strategy the EU promised in Johannesburg?”, was another of Töpfer’s critical questions. And last but not least: “we talk a lot about energy efficiency, but what about sufficiency?”
Finally, Jacqueline McGlade of the European Environment Agency made a plea for a tax shift away from labour and on to the inefficient use of resources.
One of the important topics brought up in the Q&A round with the audience was the issue of biodiversity. All speakers agreed that the biodiversity threat needs the same attention as climate change. “Maybe we need a similar body for biodiversity as the IPCC for climate change, and maybe there is a need for a ‘Stern report’ on biodiversity”, said Klaus Töpfer. Great idea! Why wouldn’t the EU take the lead on this, President Barroso? Show us that you are a real sustainability leader 🙂
PS: Today yours truly will be present at the session on the role of cities and regions to tackle climate change (session 13).Author : Willy De Backer