A Green New Deal is required

published January 9, 2010

by Carmel Cacopardo

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In the aftermath of the Copenhagen Climate Summit, fingers have been pointed at China and the US as the perceived culprits for the summit’s failure. The real fault lies elsewhere as the culprit is subservience to competition policy. Economic efficiency on its own does not lead to the right choices as the choices required are not just of an economic nature. They are in addition and simultaneously of a social, environmental and ethical nature.

Human beings are an integral part of an ecological system. This basic fact has to be the constant point of reference in all decisions taken. Unfortunately, it is however continuously ignored.

Subjecting nature to the economy is not possible in the long- term. Nature reacts whenever it considers that this is necessary in order to restore its ecological balance.

In the process, it wipes out of existence all that lies in its path. This has been going on for ages. Climate change is just the latest manifestation of this basic rule: nature always reigns supreme.

The earth’s resources are limited and, consequently, they cannot fuel infinite economic growth. There are limits to growth, which should lead developed countries to consider decoupling prosperity and economic growth.

This is a policy issue the United Kingdom Sustainable Development Commission is discussing. It is addressed in a study authored by Tim Jackson from the University of Surrey and is entitled Prosperity Without Growth: The Transition To A Sustainable Economy.

The pursuit of economic growth as the single most important policy goal is in conflict with the earth’s limited resource base and the fragile ecosystem of which we are a part and on which we depend for survival.

While economic growth is supposed to deliver prosperity, it has instead delivered climate change, fuel insecurity, sky-high commodity prices, collapsing biodiversity, reduced access to water and an ever-increasing global inequality. These are all issues whose tackling cannot be postponed to the next generation.

Progress is measured through the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). GDP measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile.

It is just concerned with material wealth ignoring in the process our health, education, the safety of our streets, the social tissue of society… It includes the production of armaments and the destruction of the environment carried out in the name of progress as well as the television programmes that glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

In an EU-sponsored conference in 2007, entitled Beyond GDP: Measuring Progress, True Wealth And The Economic Well-Being Of Nations, a common thread running through the proceedings was that decision-making requires a vision based on the role of the human person within an ecological setting. If all humankind lived as the developed world, the resources of three earths would not suffice. This is the challenge of the emerging economies: they want their fair share of the earth’s resources.

The insistence of China, India, Brazil and South Africa reflected in the Copenhagen Accord (subsequently adopted by the US too) that the principle of common and differentiated responsibility should be the basis of a post-Kyoto agreement signifies that equity not competition should rule the roost.

The Copenhagen accord, though noted by the international community, is non-binding and will not be easily accepted by Parliaments in the developed world as an equitable tool to tackle climate change.

The principle of common and differentiated responsibility was successfully applied in the Montreal Protocol of 1987 relative to the elimination of CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) and the protection of the ozone layer.

When this principle is applied to climate change, as proposed by the Copenhagen Accord, it signifies that the international community recognises that each and every state is contributing to the accumulating disaster but that the responsibility to act differs.

The differentiation depends on the manner in which countries have contributed to the problem.

Those countries that have been emitting greenhouse gases since the industrial revolution should shoulder a larger share of the global cost of mitigation measures.

They also have the duty to assist other states in adapting not just by financing the changes required but also through facilitating the transfer of know-how and technology.

Commitment of billions of euros in aid has been made by both the EU and the US. Throwing monies at problems has never solved them! What is required is a green new deal, an integrated policy approach to the multiple crises the earth is facing. It is an approach proposed by the European Green Party during the 2009 elections for the European Parliament calling for the ecological transformation of the European economy.

Addressing the impacts of climate change cannot be divorced from the need to restructure the economy to one which is not dependent on carbon: an economy that considers its ecological impacts on the drawing board and not as an afterthought.

This is the only way forward.

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