FEPS Fresh Thinking

Coming back from summer – the time of year when I spend most time with nature and appreciate the best things in life – I was quite astonished at the rate at which we are destroying Mother Nature. And for what benefit?

There seem to be so many ‘environmental’ issues at the moment, which are intrinsically linked to economic policy or more precisely to austerity policies.

The issues range from fracking and exploring for shale gas (as in Britain), arctic drilling (as in the US), or the lack of momentum in curbing carbon emissions and enhancing our use of clean and safe energy supplies (as in many European countries). Although the US has recently paused its plans for arctic drilling, but only because Shell has not managed to succeed in drilling exploratory wells.

One issue struck me particularly: the decision to give up the Yasuni ITT initiative in Ecuador; probably because this concept was so revolutionary and abstract from other policies in operation since its introduction in 2007, and undoubtedly because the foundation of this concept relied on international global solidarity. Maybe also because if this did become a reality it would radically change the way we consider our economic and social policies. The end to this project was blamed on power and lack of co-responsibility.

The Yasuni initiative was presented by the President of Ecuador, first to the United Nations in 2007 in a bid to help protect the Amazon rainforest, with its incomparable biodiversity, from oil drilling. The protected park is also known to hold 20% of the country’s oil reserves. The initiative brought with it so much ambition and hope and yet it was a simple concept.

FEPS held a lunch debate where a representative form the Ecuadorian embassy here in Brussels presented this project. It was back in 2010 when there was still a lot of ambition and plans for the financing of climate change initiatives. The debate was at that time on “the lack of global governance and the consequences for the world’s natural resources?”

Just six years later the same President has decided to allow 1% of the park to be used for oil drilling. He blames the power of the rich and the big polluting nations, and believes that the situation would be different if the richer nations held the world’s ‘lungs’. Apparently the resources will help raise around 18 billion US$ per year which he wants to help build hospitals, schools and bring his people out of poverty.

A charming idea has not worked out. Solidarity seems to be an empty notion when it comes to the international level. It was expected that the international community will provide 3.6 billions US$ to Ecuador in order to preserve the environment. So far only 13 millions US$ have been transferred to Ecuador!

Not surprisingly China’s Sinopec is showing a lot of interest in the Yasuni reserve of oil and together with Brazil’s Petrobras is one of the 2 potential candidates who will team up with Petroecuador to explore the oil in the Yasuni reserve. It is obvious that emerging economies need more and more energy to maintain their growth path.

There are things that Europe should learn from this:

It is true, in Europe and globally today, that power is still the driving force. Regardless of whether a policy is right or wrong, whether it takes into account all sectors of society, especially the most vulnerable ones, as long as it benefits those who hold the power, it usually goes ahead. This was the case with the bailouts to Greece, Portugal and Spain. The citizens are paying back and not the banks, who caused the problem. We can see the effects of this now.

Likewise, co-responsibility relates to the way we develop, our relationship with nature

What is our strategy for fighting climate change? It seems we are no longer concerned with the real threats. In the past decade the emissions of carbon dioxide have increased, as has been feared by the IPCC itself in pessimistic projections. The first battle against global warming is already lost. In 30 years, the “red line”, the global warming to two degrees Celsius, will be exceeded and first hit the poorest regions. The American economist William Cline of the Peterson Institute comes to the conclusion, that a loss by at least 20 per cent of the crop yield is a genuine threat in 29 developing countries. According to estimates of the United Nations, at least two billion people more will live in slums in ten years, mostly in megacities, which also cause tremendous environmental damage.

What is our progressive strategy and answer to this? Where is our “co-responsibility”? The environmental challenges and new social issues urgently require emancipation from mainstream economic thinking, which is only subordinated to the expectations of the markets.

Although progressives are focusing much more on pro-growth policies, more emphasis needs to be given to issues of sustainability and equity. Progressives need to consider climate change and global warming as central as any other political issue and develop more alternative green and sustainable growth strategies!

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  1. Ernst,
    I could not agree more with you on the analysis.
    Unfortunately the human species is too big to think and act in terms of solidarity! How many Europeans have been aware of the Ecuadorian call for financial support! It is similar for programmes for protecting tropical forests. Human being are only ready to act when directly confronted with existential dangers. China may be close to finally acting on smog – and climate change – because of the health hazards for millions of Chinese citizens who
    exert increasing pressure on the government to impose appropriate controls.
    Let us wait for the forthcoming IPPC report.

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