Proposals for a green future for Europe
The National Society of Conservationists (FoE Hungary) held a series of national debates in seven locations, where we worked with young people to look at a range of issues and develop proposals.
The following five areas are of particular importance if the European Union, together with its Member States, is to take real action for a more sustainable future. In many areas, stronger action is needed, but also a rethinking of the basic objectives.
The stakes are very high, and much depends on success or failure. At stake is the future of our children and grandchildren and the fate of human civilisation itself. That is why we cannot just resort to solutions that promise a painless transition. We cannot take the risk of taking the easy way out, which may not yield the right results until it is too late.
1. Sufficiency not efficiency!
Any measure that aims for efficiency tends to produce the opposite result. As early as the 19th century, Stanley Jevons described this relationship in relation to coal use and steam engines. (1) This is the Jevons Paradox that environmental policy tends to ignore even today. The rebound effect can take many forms. It can directly increase the consumption of a product or service, the resources freed up can be used elsewhere, or consumption can lead to structural changes in the economy as a whole that also lead to increased consumption.
The example of countries with higher GDP unfortunately illustrates that, although they have higher eco-efficiency - GDP per unit footprint - they have a higher ecological footprint in absolute terms. Germany's environmental, efficiency-enhancing measures over the last three decades have only succeeded in continuing to use 3 planetary resources, while the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, although less efficient, have a smaller ecological footprint. (2)
Eco-efficiency policies in recent decades have failed to decouple economic growth from increasing environmental pressures. Environmental policy, and economic policy in general, must be geared towards making decisions that will reduce resource use, production and consumption in real terms. It focuses on sufficiency rather than efficiency, on meeting needs rather than wants.
Alternatives to green growth, prosperity without economic growth: future scenarios on climate change, biodiversity loss should not allow responsible decision-makers to rely exclusively on policies that prioritise efficiency and green growth, which have been tried and tested in recent decades and not proven. Scenarios must be developed that ensure people's well-being in a context of declining economic performance.
New measures of progress: the gross domestic product (GDP) measure must be recognised for its shortcomings, including being easily manipulated, intentionally or unintentionally, and not reflecting the real performance of the economy and the real well-being of people. It is useless to increase GDP if it is not good for society or the environment. Instead, we must immediately start to develop and apply indicators that take into account the real, sustainable development of society.
Focused innovation, stronger application of the precautionary principle: the focus on economic interests, profit and competitiveness has overshadowed the precautionary principle: only new products, technologies and services that have been proven beyond doubt to be harmless should be made available to the general public. The precautionary principle must be more strongly enforced in the future.
2. Durable products yes, planned obsolescence no
Bernard London's proposal for planned obsolescence in his 1932 study did not ultimately materialise. (3) But disposable, low-quality, frequently replaced products have become a part of our daily lives. All this, through a lot of wasted raw materials and discarded rubbish, is also taking a heavy toll on the environment.
London's proposal would have been for every product owner to know at the time of purchase how long they could use it. Today, this takes a less ethical form, whereby the consumer is confronted with the product's shortcomings, irreparability and short life after purchase. However, planned obsolescence has become part of our everyday lives on a much wider scale. It is not only broken, unusable products that are frequently replaced. We also buy almost new appliances to replace those that have been replaced by new ones, influenced by advertising, social perception, the opinions of friends, colleagues and classmates, and even a small new feature. Meanwhile, the reuse or recycling of products that are no longer used is still in its infancy, despite all efforts.
In 2005, 62 Gt of resources were used globally, of which only 4 Gt were recycled. This is not expected to change in magnitude, because some resources are simply not recoverable (fossil resources burned) or the products are too complex. In addition, due to, among other things, planned obsolescence, the resource requirements for the production of new products significantly exceed recycling capacities. (4)
Ethical, informative advertising and full product information: Legal regulatory instruments should strengthen the function of advertising to provide information about the product and limit advertising aimed solely at increasing consumption and targeting children. In advertising and when products are purchased, manufacturers should be obliged to provide information on the lifetime, guarantee, repairability and improvement possibilities of products.
Longer guarantees: The EU should urgently act to ensure a single, longer guarantee and warranty period of at least 5-10 years. This should essentially ensure the repairability, durability and better supply of spare parts for products, alongside detailed technical regulation, which provides many loopholes.
Re-use before recycling: There are a number of barriers to a much wider uptake of recycling. Among other things, a significant proportion of spent fossil resources or increasingly complex, smaller products cannot be recycled, or are difficult to recycle. Much more emphasis therefore needs to be placed on re-use and re-use. The EU must lead by example. It must continue to use its own assets or find others who can. It should encourage this instead of buying new equipment when EU funds are used. It should support with regulation and financial resources the service providers that make this possible.
Smartphones that can be used for at least 10 years: the EU should ensure that every new smartphone that comes onto the market can be used for at least 10 years by introducing appropriate legislation. This should include easy and affordable repairs, replaceable batteries, 10-year software support and the introduction of a serviceability indicator to inform consumers.
3. Climate protection now!
We have been aware of the threat of climate change for decades. Governments at international and national level have made numerous agreements and set targets, but these are being met and results are falling short.
Today's climate policy aims to tackle climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions into the environment. This is a necessary condition for successful climate protection. However, it is also the basis of the problems, because greenhouse gas emission reductions can be achieved through other other environmental pressures. The surest reduction that can address all other environmental pressures is to reduce the source of emissions, the use of fossil fuels. If one is serious about climate protection, one must address this too.
Encourage or support deep renovation of household energy systems in needy households: around a third of households would like to renovate in the coming years, which would reduce energy bills permanently. However, this will require a reliable and differentiated support scheme over many years for low-income households in energy poverty (high intensity, e.g. 80-95%, but not 100% due to liability) and for middle-income households, with a reimbursable subsidy at the rate of savings, e.g. 30-40%, to encourage deep renovation.
Transport emissions should be reduced primarily by reducing unnecessary traffic and transport: local products; urban planning, public transport improvements, transit densification, car-free zones, slower cities
Encouraging firms and companies to reduce energy and material use in production, and encouraging the public to do the same in consumption: waste recycling, i.e. strengthening the circular economy, waste reduction, recycling, support for recycling companies.
Strengthening energy self-sufficiency, along the lines of food self-sufficiency, so that local communities and municipalities can produce their own energy needs (from renewable energy sources) and distribute it according to their needs, based on the principle of subsidiarity.
Strengthening energy awareness and advice for local communities, municipalities and the general public, and further developing the network of energy experts. Strengthening the powers of green authorities, including green investment restrictions for energy developments.
The taxonomy linked to the EU package of measures to encourage the flow of financial resources towards sustainable activities should not include investments in the extraction, processing and use of nuclear energy and fossil energy sources (including coal and natural gas), nor should it include investments in palm oil products, palm oil pre-processing and use, or products produced using genetic engineering (including new genetic modification technologies).
4. Supporting the local economy instead of free trade
The positive and negative effects of trade agreements have been debated for centuries. It has been demonstrated on numerous occasions that David Ricardo's arguments in favour of free trade in his 1817 book Political Economy and the Principles of Taxation are not, or not fully, valid. Nevertheless, the vast majority of economists and policy makers base their decisions on them.
The socially damaging effects have been present in the economically weaker regions covered by the agreements from the outset, and have been compounded by increasingly obvious environmental and human rights problems. Free trade agreements also give multinational companies increasingly powerful rights. They are also granted special privileges, including investment protection, in these agreements, while negotiations are typically conducted behind closed doors, to the exclusion of the public. Such damaging agreements also make it more difficult to take decisions to tackle climate change or social problems, and promote the unregulated and increasingly intensive exploitation of natural resources. Meanwhile, multinational corporations can pollute the environment with impunity and violate human rights on a global scale, resulting in the murder of more than 200 environmentalists and human rights activists every year.
The European Union should not ratify the EU-Mercosur FTA and should stop negotiating the other FTAs: instead of further globalisation, localisation and the development of local economies and trade should be promoted. Abolish bilateral trade and investment agreements that include the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism (ISDS). The EU should actively support the establishment of a binding international convention on supranational corporate accountability in the UN Human Rights Council and the EU should also immediately adopt EU legislation to ensure supranational corporate accountability.
5. What is wrong with the EU's current agricultural policy?
The Common Agricultural Policy was designed to meet the food needs of a growing population. However, the increase in production in recent decades has brought with it the rise of intensive farming practices. It has eliminated effective competition in markets and has also contributed significantly to the increase in farm size and the use of chemicals. It does this instead of providing healthy food for Europe's population, supporting rural communities and making farming an attractive way of life for more people. The CAP also plays a major role in the loss of biodiversity and the exacerbation of climate change.
The decline of bees and pollinating insects in Europe and globally is only the first sign of biodiversity collapse. Industrialised agriculture, the continuing loss of natural habitats, building development and the extensive use of chemicals are major contributors to this decline.
There is a need for a serious reform of the CAP at its foundations to ensure that its budget is genuinely used for the benefit of the community: it must become a policy that serves the interests of all farmers, but also benefits the people of Europe. But this means ending subsidies that are not linked to good management practices and ensuring that the 'public money for the benefit of the community' approach is put into practice. The post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy must be designed with greater transparency and coherence between measures, and ensure that it is transparent and easy to implement for farmers and the general public, and that it contributes to preserving rural areas and our food souvereignty.
Reduce the use of synthetic pesticides in Europe by 80% by 2030 and eliminate their use by 2035. Under no circumstances should the authorisation of glyphosate, which expires in 2022, be extended.
Measures to restore biodiversity on farmland: Provide substantial support to farmers to switch to pollinator-friendly, bird-friendly farming and to learn agroecological methods. The European Commission should comply with the EU Court of Justice's decision on new GM technologies, announced on 25 July 2018, ensure traceability of products produced with new GM technologies and not exclude them in any way from the EU rules on GMOs.
This document has been produced with the financial support of the European Union. The National Society of Conservationists (FoE Hungary) is responsible for the contents and does not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.