This morning, I drove my old Saab to the annual vehicle inspection. Thank God, there were only some minor faults.
I remembered another visit to the vehicle inspection company, Svensk Bilprovning. It was in the early 1990s, before Sweden´s accession to the EU. As a junior civil servant in the Ministry for the Environment, I was suddenly ordered to accompany the high-level visitor to the advanced test-centre for car emissions. Something urgent had come up, and neither the Swedish Minister nor the State Secretary could be present. I had never been to the place before.
Unfortunately, the driver took Carlo Ripa di Meana and me to an ordinary, rather small, vehicle inspection site. The staff was surprised to see the limo roll into the parking space and the waiting line.
It took some embarrassing minutes to get the right adress and driving directions. Luckily, the EC Commissioner for the Environment didn´t seem to be that annoyed, and the visit to the real test centre went well.
Some years later, I visit the Mecca for car emission specialists, California. Experts at the California Air Resources Board (CARB) showed us the most advanced low-emission vehicles at that time, most of them Japanese. It was the first time I saw hybrid cars. They were tested in California because the State leads the world in the fight against air pollution from vehicles.
Just before driving to the annual car inspection, I surfed the web and found the news that Barack Obama was going to overrule the Bush administration´s decision not to let California and other States move forward on more stringent emission standards. It was later confirmed.President Obama also called for federal fuel efficiency standard from model year 2001.
I wrote a post on Aftonbladets Europablogg, the headline being “The US could take the lead in environmental policy, leaving the EU behind “.
That conclusion is not so far-fetched as it could sometimes seem during the Bush era. The United States has much to be proud in the environment field. Now, at the same time as Barack Obama and progressive States are bringing new momentum to environmental policy, the EU is dragging its feet after the enlargement with twelve new members. A number of European governments are being very cautious about new legislation.
Maybe in 5-10 years time, we will see a Pacific Region driving world environmental policy in important areas, with California leading the US, Japan moving forward on resource management, China on energy-efficient products and countries like South Korea on green innovation.
I do hope the EU will be in the race, but it will take more courage from political leaders. Listing too much to European industry concerns in the short-run is a great danger for long-term competitiveness.