Posts tagged ‘environment’
The word “sustainability” can cover a multitude of interpretations, but when it comes to fisheries policy there is no ambiguity: today’s overfishing means tomorrow’s collapsing fish stocks. Until recently the Common Fisheries Policy has been a classic case of unsustainability, a stand-off between short term political pressures on the one hand and scientific evidence warning of the destruction of Europe’s fishery resources on the other. But at least change is in the air. Rio +20 may prove a real catalyst for reform.
NGOs have condemned the outcome of the Rio meeting for its lack of specific commitments, but I would subscribe to the view of businessGreen that the conference conclusions could have a far-reaching impact on the way that governments and business approach the whole sustainability question. On fisheries the commitments are substantial.
Of course words must now be translated into action, but there are signs of change in Europe. The EU fisheries council earlier this month set a course for a more sustainable fisheries policy. When the European Parliament discusses fisheries reform in September 2012, using the limited extra powers granted by the Lisbon Treaty, MEPs can be expected to maintain pressure on the Council for an enlightened policy to take effect from 2013. Rio will be an important incentive for change.
The June 12 Fisheries Council commitments are still pretty vague. They called for maximum sustainable yields for different stocks to be set “by 2015 where possible” and “by 2020 at the latest”. Multiannual plans for fisheries management would be used to manage specific stocks – bearing in mind that Lisbon introduced shared national-EU competence for such management. And the banning of discards, whereby fish caught beyond the quota limits are thrown back dead into the sea, would (eventually) be introduced.
According to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, a pioneer campaigner who has gathered nearly a million signatures against discards, about half of the fish caught in the North Sea is currently dumped at sea because it fails to meet by-catch rules or exceeds quota. His campaign has been remarkably effective in reinforcing the Commission’s ambitions for change in fisheries policy.
The language used in the Rio declaration (paragraphs 158-177) combines environmental and economic measures to protect oceans and seas. On fisheries it commits the parties “to urgently develop and implement science-based management plans, including by reducing or suspending fishing catch and effort commensurate with the status of the stock” and to “further commit to enhance action to manage by-catch, discards, and other adverse ecosystem impacts from fisheries including by eliminating destructive fishing practices”.
Fisheries policy will now take on a different aspect as accession negotiations with Iceland move into their most difficult phase. Ten of 18 chapters have now been negotiated, fisheries still remain. The prospect of a reformed CFP will be key for Iceland, which will surely settle for nothing less than a firm commitment to change. “A fishing nation like Iceland is something that the European Union hasn’t encountered before,” says Iceland foreign minister Ossur Skarphethinsson – a claim which the Norway might dispute. Indeed, fisheries and energy were the two issues which led the Norwegians to reject entry in the early ‘70s.
There are other issues where Iceland will no doubt want assurances. For example, a situation where quotas allocated to one EU country can be bought up by operators from elsewhere, as where Spanish vessels have registered in British ports and so qualified for British quota allocations, is of course consistent with freedom of establishment, but does little to respect an initial purpose of quotas, ensuring fishing opportunity to locally based fishermen. A greater emphasis on regional management may be the way ahead here.
Not so long ago, I had the privilege to visit our team in South Africa, where our world-class team has been in overdrive helping a range of clients prepare for the upcoming COP17 global climate talks in Durban later this year.
It is clear the government there – and many of its biggest companies – are determined to put on a big show. Anyone suffering hearing damage from the sound of vuvuzelas at World Cup 2010 would surely agree that the country does “big show” very well. But now, football has been replaced by climate change as the subject on everyone’s lips.
That strikes me as a contrast to the way the subject is being viewed in Europe. The continent has historically led the world in the development of climate change policy and practice, but lately, I get the feeling that other concerns – economic recovery, job creation and so forth – have caused politicians and business leaders to focus elsewhere.
While in many ways this is perfectly understandable, it fundamentally misses the point. I say that for two reasons. Firstly and most obviously, the problem hasn’t gone away. Climate change is still happening, we’re still making more of an impact on the world than we should, and many complex issues have yet to be solved before we are able to live sustainably within the world we created.
Secondly, there is a mistaken notion that tackling climate change costs money and jobs. In reality, it often makes good business sense to tackle climate change. High energy prices mean that measures taken to make operations more efficient can give companies a competitive advantage. The opportunity to do our part to save the planet motivates employees, inspires innovation, and creates new jobs in cutting-edge industries. The notion that reducing our impact on the environment has to mean increased costs or job cuts is outdated.
That said, I also think that it is important to put a value on our environmental impact if we are going to seriously address the problem. It has often been said by companies that “we will not buy our way out of environmental responsibility;” but the real issue is about changing behaviour. Behavioural change is always difficult, and cost is a much more powerful motivator than goodwill.
I’m not sure whether COP17 will produce a watershed of political support for environmental and social sustainability. Early signs are promising – China, for instance, is sending 2000 delegates to Durban, South Africa intends to unveil a comprehensive carbon tax, and the EU remains ideologically committed to furthering the discussion. But international agreements are complicated, the world is deep in recession, and – and as COP15 in Copenhagen showed us – intent and result are often very different things. Time will tell.
In the meantime, however, each of us can focus on where we can personally have an impact. If we each can assess and show improvement in a small way, and actively think about and manage our energy use, it can make a huge difference. It is also important for each of us – either as companies or as individuals, to communicate: to talk about what we’re doing; how successful we have been, what we have learned along the way and – of course – how much money we have saved. Doing this will make it much more real than talking about it in the abstract.
There is no one-size-fits-all model for reducing environmental impact. But if each of us does a little, we can have a big influence. The future of the planet is too important to be a passing fashion.
Ronny Patz’s blog response to our podcast with the FT’s Stanley Pignal generated some on-line debate about why there aren’t many active bloggers on EU Affairs. Opinions on the scarcity are magnificently articulated here but I wonder if they are the same reasons that there are no blogs honing in on EU policies which have a huge impact on “Joe Public”. Take EU environmental policy for example. It has pretty much reached every one of the 500 million EU citizens. A more obscure element of it helped a maverick candidate to top the poll in Ireland’s general election this Spring. So you can’t say it isn’t relevant. There’s definitely space for an informative, entertaining, sometimes critical – sometimes supportive blog on how the Europe is being changed by environmental policy from Brussels. Any takers?
In the meantime, our next podcast on “Journalists & Digital” will be here very soon….
Against the backdrop of a European economic crisis of monumental proportions, the creation of the UK’s coalition government must seem like “noises off” to other European theatre-goers. But at least the deal reached between Conservative leader David Cameron and Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats could provide political stability in Britain for several years and remove a potentially destabilising element in the councils of Europe.
Having said that, I don’t recall a time when Britain seemed so much apart from European affairs, so preoccupied with its own problems, terrified that the troubles of the eurozone will scupper recovery and growth in the British economy, yet unable to do anything much to help.
David Cameron’s decision to visit Paris and Berlin within ten days of becoming prime minister was a significant gesture. There are certainly bridges to build, especially following the break with the EPP in the European Parliament. Last week’s meeting between David Cameron and President Sarkozy was only the second time since June 2008 that the two had met, and any substantive discussion was put off until the French president’s state visit to London on June 18.
In Berlin Chancellor Angela Merkel provided a guard of honour and addressed her guest as Du rather than Sie. Cameron reminded her of British opposition to any new treaties, but avoided criticism of the German ban on naked short selling. It was a friendly meeting, but had none of the signs of the Anglo-German rapprochement which could be possible.
It does seem that Cameron is not yet at ease dealing with other European leaders. Indeed, reports that deputy prime minister (multi-lingual) Nick Clegg has been asked by the prime minister to strengthen the government’s personal relations with top EU politicians does make sense.
The inauguration of Britain’s Con-LibDem coalition will certainly have come as a matter of great relief to both Sarkozy and Merkel. The “programme for government” launched on May 20 confirms that any further “transfer of power” to the EU would be resisted and that a referendum would be held to ratify any new treaty, but stresses the government’s wish to be a “positive participant” in EU affairs “with the goal of ensuring that all the nations of Europe are equipped to face the challenges of the 21st century: global competitiveness, global warming and global poverty”.
Joining the euro in the life of the current parliament is, of course, specifically excluded.
The European Commission will find a definite ally on climate change, where the British coalition programme presses the EU to “demonstrate leadership” and supports a 30 per cent CO2 reduction target by 2020.
In some policy chapters the EU is notably absent. No mention of trade, for instance, nothing on EU security and defence policy, and not a single mention of the EU under the foreign policy heading, despite unilateral commitments on the Balkans, Iran, India and China. The coalition has clearly decided to treat these issues as routine business and not to stress their EU context.
The coalition programme emphasises that cutting the budget deficit is the absolute priority of this government. Britain’s role in the world will be reassessed, which will in turn raise questions in relation to defence spending (closer co-operation with France, cancellation of orders like the A400M?), foreign policy (cut diplomatic spending and rely on a stronger EU overseas service?) and the contribution to the EU budget, which will soon become a big political issue.
I do wonder how Baroness Ashdown feels about the whole thing as she wrestles with conflicting national demands in relation to the European External Action Service. After all, a slimmed down British diplomatic network might well demand an enhanced European capability.
For the European Union it was a depressing end to the year! Gone were all hopes of providing global leadership at the Copenhagen conference on climate change. The EU found itself helpless on the sidelines as the US president, constrained by a sceptical Congress, confronted a Chinese prime minister apparently determined to reject any binding commitments which might set limits to China’s CO2 emissions over the next 40 years.
The Copenhagen Accord, put together at a meeting between the US, China, Brazil, India and South Africa, seemed more wishful thinking than a blueprint for the future.
President Barroso put a brave face on it, describing the outcome as a positive step, “but below our ambitions”. Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said it would not solve the climate change threat to mankind. The first test will come during January 2010 when developed countries publish their targets for emissions beyond 2020 and major emerging economies make voluntary pledges.
What will be the implications for European policy, I wonder? Instead of the 30 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020 the EU presumably sticks to 20 per cent. If there is no global commitment to a plus-two-degree temperature ceiling, no binding reductions for 2050, and the prospects of soaring emissions elsewhere in the world, how can the EU and its 27 member states convince the people of Europe to make the sacrifices needed to achieve a low-carbon economy? I wouldn’t want to hold a referendum on the subject!
Maybe the next 12 months will deliver where Copenhagen failed. Maybe the experience of the world’s leaders getting together in Copenhagen will produce results. Maybe there will be progress in Bonn at the beginning of June leading to the UN climate change conference in Mexico City in December. Maybe. But for this is to happen will require fundamental change in the positions of other players.
The EU played its part in seeking an agreement at Copenhagen. It put money on the table, committed itself to more technology transfer and was willing to accept binding emissions targets, but it strikes me that the EU now has to toughen up its international negotiating stance on political, trade and aid issues. It has the institutions for joined-up external relations policies which reflect its economic importance; climate change is one of the first policy areas where these new capabilities should be mobilised.
Europe is after all a key market for the goods produced in emerging markets: we get the benefits in cheap and abundant products, but at what cost to our long-term wellbeing? The rejection of any binding long-term commitments could affect everyone. Flooding, drought, hunger and mass migration on other continents would have consequences for Europe. EU leaders should put on the pressure to retrieve what was lost in Copenhagen.