The European Union is a prominent leader in sustainable development and environmental preservation. In 2006, the European Council decided to renew their current EU Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS) with the intent of meeting new and more prestigious challenges, as well as furthering present commitments. The biggest goal of the SDS is to create long-term improvements and lasting impacts through environmentally conscious decisions. The EU has already incorporated SDS into daily life through more efficient use of resources, reaching new levels of clean air and water, and reducing the amount of waste; all of which generate jobs.
The EU Environment Commissioner, Janez Potočnik issued a serious warning on the relationship between the environment and the EU’s current economic challenges. He states that inefficient use of valuable natural resources could spark another recession in Europe. Through inefficient energy use, natural resources are wasted, while their costs are rising due to supply and demand. Europeans consequently get less bang for their buck as resources dwindle.
Potočnik argues that, “It’s very difficult to imagine [lifting Europe out of recession] without growth, and very difficult to imagine growth without competitiveness, and very difficult to be competitive without resource efficiency.” He believes that consumers and producers must work together to reduce wasteful methods and boost the economy. He stated that his department was investigating current regulations and proposing new more effective regulations. The desired outcome is to put Europe back on the competitive economic track.
The UK’s greenhouse gas emissions provide a recent example of the financial impact of failing to respect the environmental-economic relationship. The country’s emissions rose 3.1% in 2010. This statistic is met with disapproval in Europe as the UK did not follow SDS regulations. Furthermore, an increase in emissions represents a rise in energy usage and increases financial stress on consumers.
Keith Allot, head of climate change at WWF-UK, addresses the issue by stating: “It is alarming to see emissions from homes rising when people are struggling to pay their energy bills. The UK’s overreliance on gas has pushed up emissions along with people’s energy bills. It’s a clear sign that the government needs to back investors in renewable energy and get us off the fossil fuel hook once and for all.”
EU Climate Commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, takes the argument a step further. After attending an EU summit that discussed methods to create jobs and manage debt, Hedegaard claimed the solution is sustainable development. She asked her peers, “When we want to adjust our economics and make them more resilient, can anyone come up with a better proposal than to address energy efficiency?”
Hedegaard’s argument is simple: energy efficiency creates durable economies. She suggests that installing better insulation in European buildings would create about half a million jobs, and also decrease the energy import bill ($413 billion dollars for oil in 2011). With debt increasing, Hedegaard urges that investment in sustainable development could not only stimulate EU failing economies, but it could also help the European Union become a leader in economic innovation.
The answer is clear. In today’s world, sustained economic growth cannot be achieved without resource efficiency. If the EU can properly implement SDS procedures and protocols, Europe may be able to jumpstart its global competitiveness again. The question remains: will the EU use energy efficiency to help solve their financial crisis?
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Shealyn Kirts is a recent graduate of the University of Delaware with a degree in International Relations.
Category: Sustainable Small-B