True ‘growth’ for Europe’s nature and people

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Luigi Epomiceno [WWF]

Luigi Epomiceno [WWF]

The Italian presidency puts forward smart, sustainable and inclusive growth as one of its priorities, leading the EU in the coming months. But what does this mean, exactly, for the European citizen, Luigi Epomiceno wonders.

Luigi Epomiceno is the director of WWF Italy.

Reforms, innovation and smart, sustainable and inclusive growth are the keywords of the programme the Italian Presidency has prepared for its six months at the head of the Council of the EU. What else does Europe need in a period of economic hardship and political unpopularity if not ambitious reforms? WWF could not agree more. But as we know, the devil often hides in the detail. And the not irrelevant detail is the meaning of “growth”.

What kind of economic growth are we aiming at? The kind of “growth at all costs” that resulted in inefficient, resource-intensive economies that benefit privileged minorities? Or, having learned the hard lessons of the recent past, are we aiming at a new model of growth focused on quality rather than quantity, and on producing, eating, consuming better rather than simply more? “Create a new Europe for the Planet”, is the programme that the WWF launched for its European elections’ campaign that 132 elected newly elected Members of the European Parliament have signed. It is the policy programme that we are now asking the Italian government to support and deliver upon.

In the WWF’s view, it is only if key economic sectors become more resource-efficient, and reduce environmental risk and social inequalities, will we be able to build a better, more prosperous and sustainable future. For that to happen, a new economic thinking that looks beyond GDP as an indicator, and includes the value of natural capital, will be essential. Renewed political leadership is also required. Italy now has an important opportunity to take the lead and initiate such a fresh start using the forthcoming changes at the highest echelons of the European institutions as a potential lever for change.

With 26 million unemployed people in Europe, it is a positive sign that one of the first initiatives of the Italian government is the informal meeting between European ministers for employment and environment in Milan to discuss Green Jobs and Green Growth. According to European Commission data, 5 million jobs could be created in Europe by meeting the 2020 climate and energy targets. A further 14.6 million jobs are provided directly by biodiversity protection and ecosystem services. This data confirms that investing in clean energies and nature conservation should be a “no brainer” for Europe.

The mid-term review of the Europe 2020 Strategy offers a great chance to head in a new strategic direction which is directly to the benefit of the European public. WWF believes this can be achieved by introducing a strong resource efficiency target, the full inclusion of post-2015 sustainable development objectives, and a new “Beyond GDP” approach to measuring the welfare of economies and societies.  

To achieve an international climate agreement in 2015 in Paris, the Italian Presidency will have to ensure that in October 2014, the European Council supports strong and binding 2030 EU climate and energy targets. For this, Italy will have to show that it is really ambitious and ready to overcome the obstacles presented by some “difficult” countries. A strong package will not only support Europe’s competitiveness and global climate action, but is also key to ensuring the EU’s energy independence in the medium to long term.

The Italian Presidency will be measured by the WWF on whether it is able to deliver “a fresh start” as promised in their programme, and how it redefines the kind of growth should Europe be pursuing.

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