The EU has long-prided itself on being a “leader” when it comes to green technologies and renewable energy. In fact, some see “green growth” as being the solution to Europe’s economic woes. Should Europe cling on to its competitive edge when it comes to green tech? Or should it start exporting these technologies internationally, in the form of development aid? This was the question raised by one of our commenters, Nikolai, in a debate last month. We’ve been taking this question, along with others posed by our readers, to European policy-makers to hear their reactions.
This week, we spoke to Jarosław Pietras, Director General of Climate Change and the Environment at the Council of the European Union, and asked him for his reaction. Firstly, we had a comment from Michael arguing that the “environment needs funds which are not available at the moment. Consequently we have to focus on what will provide us with these funds and that is the real economy. First things first.” Would you agree with Michael that the short-term priority should be restoring economic growth?
When Michael says there is a problem of financing, I think that is a clue to the issue; if the environment is considered only as expenditure, then you can afford it only when you have a good economy and good growth. But I think it should be internalised so it’s seen as part of the cost of operation. So when you take water you pay for it; when you dump waste you pay for it; when you use air and dump pollution into the atmosphere, you pay for it. Then it’s much easier to put the recovery in such a manner that it addresses these inter-related issues.
We also had a comment from Enrique arguing that in a “finite planet we cannot grow infinitely. In the face of growing scarcity of cheap resources… we must change the way the economy operates to extend the useful life of all material elements through mandatory legislation.“
It’s an important point that Enrique is making. But first one has to see that it’s not only green growth for wealthy people, it’s green growth globally. You’ve got countries that still need to grow; the problem is if they’re growing and immitating or emulating rich countries like the US or Japan, then the resources of the planet will be used in a very inneffective manner. One has to find new approaches to both the consumption and the production sides.
What about Enrique’s other point? That we need a new international legal framework to cope with the environmental challenges we are facing?
He says we need new regulations, but we have plenty of examples of regulations with good intentions that resulted in negative and unanticipated outcomes for the environment. If you look at biofuels, for example, they initially looked very positive for both the economy and the environment. However, there were other effects – such as taking up necessary land for food crops, deforestation, and releasing plenty of carbon dioxide into the environment. Not all of the consequences were predicted. You cannot rely solely on regulation.
Next we had Nikolai, who wondered suggested that “maybe aid, internal and foreign policy development should never take the form of cash incentives but always take the form of exporting energy and resource saving technology at the beginning of any development engagement?” What do you think of Nikolai’s suggestion? Should more aid take the form of technology transfers, especially in terms of green technology?
Aid is an important compoment of policy; it’s kind of a global expression of solidarity. The problem, and probably what Nikolai indicates, is if you offer aid it can create negative effects. Money can be used by local authorities, local groups and businesses; sometimes not appropriately, sometimes creating corruption. I think the idea of technology transfers is a valid point, it should be done. But it cannot be offered without money as well. It somehow has to be financed – and it’s not always good if someone from outside selects all the technology to be transferred.
What do YOU think? Do you agree that the environment and the economy should be seen as two sides of the same coin? Do you support the idea that it is in Europe’s interests to export as much green technology as it can around the world? Or should it hold on to its competitive edge in this field? And do we need new international laws to control how we use the planet’s resources? Or do too many regulations cause more harm than good? Let us know your thoughts in the form below, and we’ll take your comments to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.