EU democracies still rewarding short-term thinking says environment commissioner

Europe's democracies are organised in a way that reward short-term environmental and financial thinking and "punish" long-term ideas, says Janez Potocnik.

European Commissioner for Environment Janez Potocnik speaking at the opening session of Green Week in Brussels

European Commissioner for Environment Janez Potocnik speaking at the opening session of Green Week in Brussels

In his opening statement for the European Commission's Green Week in Brussels, the European Commissioner for Environment stressed that Governments and businesses in Europe must get on board with strategies that consider environmental and financial targets over the long-term.

"I don't know a single politician that would be awarded because he or she was thinking long-term, on the contrary we punish them," he said.

"Do we see companies awarded on the basis of a five year average of their profits. No it's yearly or even quarterly. So we are running with the current system, which we have established in short-term thinking.

"And this system simply can't cope with the challenges of the 21st century, which are quite simple - a larger population equals more per capita of consumption and we have to learn to live with more people on the earth. But we are not ready to learn or accommodate to that fact," he added.

Potocnik stressed that humans have never protected environmental interests, only "our own interests".

"When we have noticed that our interests are being affected by the environment we have then reacted. And that is often due to scepticism of the problem but even those who are not entirely convinced you can easily develop a strong case from the competitiveness of the European Union," he added.

Potocnik stated that declining growth rates in Europe over the last five decades are fairly conclusive evidence that environmental issues are impacting industry.

"In the 1960's the growth rate was 5.3, 1970's it was 3.8, 1980's it was 3.1, 1990's 2.3 and 2000 to 2010 it was 1.4. Is there anybody who doesn't realise that this is connected to green tape? We are living in a different world which is much more inter-connected, inter-dependent in which we are seeing new strategic moves and new directions, and we are not taking them seriously.

"Europe is a continent which has based its competitiveness, production and consumption, on the basis of resource intensive consumption. We know this, but today we are still doing the same. We are adding approximately three tonnes to landfill per person in Europe," he adds.

Highlighting Europe's increasing reliance on importing, Potocnik said that the EU currently imports 60% of the regions energy and the estimates are set to rise above 80%.

"We import half of everything that we build and we import six times more than we export. You don't need a PhD or be an economist to realise that the the new industrial policy must be to use recycled material, to produce the same products using less energy and water and less raw materials. And this is because it makes sense and it's the only way we can compete".

According to Potocnik, reducing consumption levels and becoming more resourceful is the only way that industry can stay in Europe, adding that the economic environment is pushing industry out of Europe.

Leigh Stringer


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