3E Intelligence

Friends of Europe’s annual energy summit (held on 30 October) saw tough exchanges between CCS defenders and the renewable energy sector but kept dodging the real question: can we solve the climate/energy crisis without questioning our economic growth and development paradigm?

Energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs, as expected, defended his commission resolve not to “deviate” from the proposed energy/climate policies. “Each day we postpone to do something about these issues, will make later solutions more difficult and more expensive”, he said. He also criticised OPEC’s recent decision to cut production and warned for plans by Russia, Iran and Qatar to create an OPEC-like gas cartel.

Belgian energy and climate minister Paul Magnette tried to answer one of the main questions put forward by the organisers: are the EU’s climate policies convincing its partners worldwide? “Is the EU convincing itself?” was the rhetorical question Magnette used as his answer. The Belgian minister referred to the mistakes made during the 70’s oil crisis: reacting along national interests and looking only at short-term solutions. He urged the commission to come up with much more ambitious proposals and underlined the need for more R&D spending on energy and with more regulation.

WTO Trade and Environment Director Vesile Kulaçoglu brought a very general contribution on the issue of climate change and possible restrictive trade measures and carefully avoided to give any hint of how WTO would react legally to an EU border tax adjustment to prevent carbon leakage or to similar instruments proposed in the US.

“We need more leadership” and a JFK-like “man on the moon” strategy to help start the energy revolution according to Greenpeace Climate and Energy Head Gavin Edwards and Chinese Academy of Social Science researcher Xingshu Zhao gave a polite presentation of her country’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Mrs Zhao forgot to mention the recent report of her Academy of Sciences which last week admitted in its “Chinese energy report 2008” that by 2030 China could well reach half of the world’s current global CO2 emissions (14.7 billion tonnes – current world emissions are 31 billion tonnes).

Last but not least, Nuno Lacasta, Director of the Portuguese Climate Change Commission, repeated Andris Piebalgs warning that the climate/energy crisis will not “subside” and the EU should “keep its eye on the ball”. He also said that much more “revolutionary” solutions might be needed. “We need to plant the seeds of a revolution”, Lacasta concluded.

And this is exactly what I missed in this debate as well as in most others in Brussels. There is still a lack of understanding of how dramatic the situation really is in terms of the sustainability collapse we are facing and policymakers have not yet grasped the full extent of the long emergency process we have started (climate and energy are just one – be it the most important one – of the sustainability challenges: there is the declining natural resource base – “peak everything”, the biodiversity challenge and the increasing water scarcity in several countries, as well as high food prices).

We will not escape asking ourselves whether the economic growth model which brought high materialistic prosperity to the US, Europe and Japan can be transposed to the BRICS countries without endangering the basic life-support systems that make life and therefore the economy possible on this planet in the first place. If we do not start to come up with the seeds of a new development model which respects the ecological limits of our one Planet within the next ten to fifteen years, we will be forced back by Nature into the pre-industrial life style our ancestors enjoyed for thousands of years. We better learn quickly!

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