An `eco-efficient´ Europe

 

Climate change is one of the main topics for the Swedish presidency. At the informal meetings with Energy and Environment Ministers 23-25 July, however, another theme is also prominent.

Andreas Carlgren, Minister for the Environment. Photo: Pawel Flato

Andreas Carlgren, Minister for the Environment. Photo: Pawel Flato

In the ski resort Åre, EU Ministers will discuss the path towards “an eco-efficient economy”. Exactly what this means is somewhat unclear, but the principle is to green the economy by using energy and other resources in a more efficient way. Centre party members of the Swedish government are behind the initiative, including Maud Olofsson (Minister for Enterprise and Energy) and Andreas Carlgren (Minister for the Environment).

The economic crisis has changed the European debate on climate and other environmental issues. There is a fear that EU ambitions will be lowered because of competitiveness concerns and budget deficits. Putting “eco-efficiency” on the agenda could be a way of changing perspective.

As a basis for discussions in Åre, Stockholm Environment Institute has presented an interesting report on eco-efficiency. Unfortunately, it lacks detail on initiatives at EU level.

Instead, the Presidency could benefit from a Commission non-paper, due before the Åre meetings. DG Environment is analyzing the green components of economic stimulus packages around the world. It is often said that South Korea, China and other countries include more green investment in their stimulus plans than most EU member states. The Commission input to Åre will allow Ministers to discuss how to combine economic recovery with reduced emissions of pollutants.

The Commission will also highlight the role of environmental technology, the jobs created by ambitious environmental policies, the possibilities of “green GDP” and new indicators for low-carbon growth, the potential of green public procurement, and a number of other issues.

For Swedish Ministers, the challenge is to transform such ideas to conclusions that are relevant for the European Council in December, when the future of the Lisbon strategy will be discussed. Unless discussions at the informal meetings result in concrete proposals, not much will have been gained.

On the agenda for December is also a review of the EU Sustainable Development Strategy, adopted at the EU Summit in Gothenburg 2001. Last year, environmental experts in other Member states and in Brussels expected Sweden to put much emphasis on this topic when preparing the Presidency. However, Stockholm was slow in making proposals on the issue, which was considered too “Social Democratic” by parts of the centre-right government.

Now, a team in the Prime Minister´s office is working full speed to catch up, and to link the review of the Sustainable Development Strategy to the future Lisbon strategy. Also in this case, the proof of the governments green ambitions will be in the concrete proposals adopted at the December Summit.

The Commission review on the Strategy will not be available in Åre, though, since a draft text drawn up under the auspices of Secretary-General Catherine Day was rejected at Cabinet level after being considered too vague.

(My next weekly analysis will appear 30 August)

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