06 April 2023 –
While many European countries press ahead with the clean energy transition, aiming to replace dependence on Russian gas with renewable energies, others such as Italy, seem more interested in signing new gas contracts with countries like Libya. The Italian government, while not denying the reality of climate change, recently emphasised its belief in a “pragmatic approach” to the green transition.
This logic that taking a “pragmatic approach” to the green transition will mean less harm to the economy and jobs than more determined climate action is questionable. Our International System Change Compass report, published in 2022 by The Club of Rome, Systemiq, and the Open Society European Policy Institute, shows how the various crises facing the world are interlinked. Only through real system change can Italy, like other European countries and the rest of the world, tackle the global climate and biodiversity emergencies and reset the economic compass so that it delivers for all people everywhere.
Taking a “pragmatic approach” that prolongs today’s extractive, fossil fuel economy will only delay the energy transformation and make people’s lives more difficult and more expensive as emissions continue to rise and the impacts of climate change are increasingly felt both domestically and abroad. Not to mention the hypocrisy of Europe’s desire to reduce fossil fuel dependency at home, while pushing an extractive economy on its neighbours.
The European Green Deal, to which Italy like all other EU countries is a fully signed up player, largely acknowledges this conclusion, setting out an integrated approach to a green and just transition by 2050 and a vision for a climate neutral future. Yet current EU commitments and policies related to the Green Deal remain too narrow in scope to achieve the desired goals.
The Green Deal focuses predominantly on the supply side and hardly addresses demand-side measures or the global context of the energy transition and the potential international effects of Europe’s transition towards ecological and social sustainability. The EU’s recent Net Zero Industrial Strategy acknowledges the importance of ensuring Europe sources the minerals required for the energy transition in as sustainable a manner as possible and for the bloc to increase its share of mining. Recycling and the circular economy are, however, still far from being the leading tenets of this strategy.
A fair and just transition will never become reality if European countries remain wedded not simply to oil and gas, but also to the international systems that enable these industries to thrive and the tacit understanding that lower income countries will provide the raw ingredients needed to produce the batteries, wind turbines, electric cars and solar panels of the future. The Green Deal and its initiatives are, likewise, failing to tackle the major driver of emissions and environmental degradation, namely overconsumption in high income countries, including in Europe.
Our report shows how the European Green Deal can be rolled out to create the green, just, and resilient future it seeks to achieve by following ten principles, redefining how we understand and implement: leadership; prosperity; natural resource use; progress; the metrics used to measure the impacts of consumption and production; competitiveness; incentives, too often spent on unsustainable practices; consumption; finance; and governance.
In short, we need to overhaul today’s system and create one that is fit for the challenges and opportunities of the twenty-first century. Central to this transformation is redefining Europe’s relationships with countries on which we have historically relied to provide the resources that fuel our destructive lifestyles. Striving for ever greater wealth and a never-ending choice of goods and services has come at great expense to those countries we have exploited to achieve these ends and to Europeans. Air pollution, the extinction of habitats and species, extreme weather events from climate change and stress on land and water due to desertification are all symptoms of the current system.
Research by the International Resource Panel shows natural resource extraction and processing account for more than 90 per cent of global biodiversity loss and water stress, around half of global greenhouse gas emissions and one-third of air pollution health impacts.
There is no shortage of science and research making the case for change. In March, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change underlined, once again, the desperate need for climate action, warning how every degree of global heating results in rapidly escalating hazards from more intense heatwaves to heavier rainfall. It detailed how in every region of the world, people are already dying from extreme heat, and how climate-driven food and water insecurity is likely to increase with increased warming.
Today it is not so much climate denial that is stopping the implementation of system change solutions, but pushback from those politicians, who insist they understand climate change is happening, but claim business-as-usual solutions are the only way to keep the world ticking over. They couldn’t be more wrong.
The energy transition and the European Green Deal are about much more than replacing fossil fuels with renewable energies; they are opportunities to end a system that rewards most handsomely the rich at the expense of the poorer in Europe and abroad. As the COVID pandemic reminded us, we are as vulnerable as the most vulnerable link. Taking our ten principles as a starting point, the EU and member states, can implement solutions that reduce emissions and improve lives everywhere, building resilience to future shocks and stresses. This is not a choice between ideology and pragmatism, but the only option we have to avoid disaster and end the perpetuation of inequalities that have plagued our world for far too long.
First published in L’Osservatore Romano.