TOPIC: Challenges to the Europe 2020 Plan

The European Union's next strategic plan, to be formally adopted in June of 2010, boast itself a scheme for "smart, sustainable and inclusive growth." The economic and financial crisis has rocked the foundations of Europe, and this is the continent's attempt to throw off the old ways that lead them to destruction in the first place and begin anew. Of course, not quite in that language. What Barroso states instead is the need to use this crisis in order to "find the path to create new jobs and to offer a sense of direction to our societies." Europe 2020, is about rebuilding a way of life. Increased economic interdependence demands that the political world be equally united. This is not a covert cry for European integration, but rather a fact. The bickering between the European states is not sustainable.

The plan, in all, is progressive and a breath of fresh air. But: it is not, as it would claim to be, "ambitious." Attainable, maybe – if Europe set her mind to it, but ambitious? No.

The EU 2020 has three priorities: smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. Smart growth, in that the European economy needs to shift towards a concentration in knowledge and innovation. Sustainable growth, the buzz-word of the entire document, pushes for a greener and thus more competitive economy. The last, inclusive growth, is included in true EU fashion: a push for social and territorial cohesion as a method to boost employment levels. These three priorities guide the five targets: "75% of the population aged 20-64 should be employed; 3% of the EU's GDP should be invested in R&D; the '20/20/20' climate/energy targets should be met (including and increase to 30% of emissions reduction if the conditions are right); the share of early school leavers should be under 10% and at least 40% of the younger generation should have a tertiary degree; 20 million less people should be at risk of poverty."

The Commission will be heading seven flagship initiatives to drive the progress. Primarily of interest for the environment is the initiative for a "Resource Efficient Europe". This initiative supports a shift in the economy with the aim to "decouple our economic growth from resource and energy use, reduce CO2 emissions, enhance competitiveness and promote greater energy security."

En bref, the goals of the project are attainable, if perhaps only for their broadness. It must also be said that Europe has a great capacity to change, that much over its history has been clear. And this plan does seem to offer a break for the environment: the word green is amply used in the report, and all economic ventures demand for sustainability. Europe knows that economic recovery will not come without a green economy.

However, this plan is not enough.

In a report released by the WWF, we, as a human species, are in ecological overshoot: we use the equivalent of 1.3 planets every year. The human demand on the environment is greater than the capacity of the earth to sustain us. We are changing resources into waster faster than nature can accommodate them or change them back into resources. This is a problem: we simply cannot live on more than there is. In Europe and in North America we live on land that cannot sustain us: we thus import resources and export waste and pollution.

And down this path leads to the dark side: for over-consumption leads to ecological debt, which leads to ecological degradation, and ultimately to ecological collapse. And all of us can feel the ecological debt: smaller fish in the market, extreme weather, and desertification are just a few examples.

By 2030 we will need 2 planets to support ourselves.

This is not a recent phenomenon: we have been exceeding the earth's biocapacity since the 1980s. Sustainable is not only a word. It is a harsh reality: the earth can not sustain us. We must change the way we live, or else drive ourselves into extinction by destroying the resources we need to sustain our existence.

From this perspective, Europe 2020 falls short. Where the strategy should be a radical transformation of our civilization, it is nothing but a weak call for Europe to change her point of view. Too much from the top, and too little from civil society?

WORKSHOP: Environmental Challenges to the Europe 2020 Plan

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