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May 09 2012

18:02

European Elections and Sustainable Development in America


European voters rejected austerity in favor of growth. What will that mean for sustainable development in the US?In Europe, voters have chosen growth over austerity and this has implications for the U.S. economy and sustainable development. The Greek and French electorate’s rejection of austerity will have a dramatic effect on European spending, including investments in sustainability. These changes can also be expected to reverberate across the Atlantic.

In France, Francois Hollande’s presidential victory has derailed Nicholas Sarkozy’s austerity policies and in Greece, the parties supporting the international rescue package have lost control of parliament. In both countries, voters decisively said no to austerity and yes to growth.

France and Greece Choose Growth over Austerity

Both France and Greece appear to be doing a 180 on austerity. Hollande has been critical of the austerity policies central to European bailout deals. He promises to ease austerity measures and increase taxation on the wealthy. Hollande has pledged to renegotiate the European fiscal pact that was signed in December 2011 and he wants to issue common European bonds to finance growth through investment in sectors like renewable energy.

Investment in renewable energy is only one of several commitments that have pleased France’s Green Party (which received 2 percent of the French vote). During the campaign, Hollande promised to diversify France’s energy, including promises to cut the country’s nuclear dependence in half by 2025. He also vowed to increase renewable energy and respect France’s international engagements to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This will help France reach and perhaps even surpass its EU-backed sustainability goals of 20 percent by 2020. Greenpeace France notes that the newly elected President of France has called for the EU to increase its GHG emissions target to 30 percent by 2020.

Prior to the election, France’s right leaning Sarkozy government was criticized for doing little for the environment. In an October, 2011 article published in the French daily Le Monde, MPs from the “ecological” wing of the Socialist party derided the center-right’s environmental record. They chided the “environmental passivity of the right” saying that after 10 years of leadership, “France invests nine times less than Germany and five times less than China in clean energy.”  They further drew attention to the fact that there are no French businesses among the top 10 producers of wind turbines or photovoltaic panels. They also pointed out that in terms of wind production per inhabitant, France was in thirteenth place in Europe and the country had no offshore wind developments.

The fate of Greece is much less certain. The results of Greek parliamentary elections are inconclusive, fueling fear that Greece will become the first developed nation to default on its debt.

If a coalition government cannot be formed, Greece will go back to the voters some time in June, but this will be too late for the bailout package being offered by the EU. If Greek political leaders cannot form a government, the country will default on its debt and cease to be part of the EU. This will have a calamitous impact on the economy of the entire continent and the wider world. Whatever the future holds, it is now clear that Greeks have refused austerity.

Rio+20

All of this intrigue takes place just ahead of the Rio+20 conference, which will take place on June 20 – 22, 2012. This is the fourth major summit on sustainable development since 1972. The summit brings together at least 100 global leaders and 50,000 participants from around the world, including corporate executives and representatives of various social movements. Participants will focus on growth, and address specific concerns as they relate to oceans, food, energy, biodiversity and climate. The summit aims to find ways to support sustainable development.

U.N. Secretary General Bank Ki Moon wants to bring sustainable energy to even the most remote corners of the planet and 3,000 scientists will present a new science for Planet Earth at Rio 20 known as the State of the Planet Declaration.

However, some of Europe’s key players will not be attending the Rio Conference. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will not attend nor will British Prime Minister David Cameron. Despite rearranging the summit’s dates so they would not coincide with Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, Cameron announced he will not be attending Rio. US President Barack Obama is also likely to stay on the campaign trail rather than go to Rio.

Whatever happens in Rio, the elections in Europe have changed the political map and this has implications for the forthcoming American election.

Sustainable Development in America

Austerity in Europe was not good for the growth of sustainability or the American economy and social unrest born of economic hardship compounded the problem. The end of austerity is good news for advocates of sustainable development and those who want to see more growth in the American economy.

In Europe, government investment to stimulate growth will benefit the American economy. It may also make it easier for the Obama administration to increase its commitment to sustainable development. As should be obvious to all with even a passing interest in American politics, when it comes to sustainable development, the Democrats are the only game in town.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has an economic strategy that has austerity at its heart. Events in Europe may encourage Americans to question the Republican vision for America. According to the European narrative, spending cuts further slow the economy and actually increase debt. This puts Republicans squarely at odds with the new economics sweeping across Europe.

As stated by Richard Eskow, a senior fellow at the liberal Campaign for America’s Future, this should bode well for the Democrats:

“This should be the Democrats’ moment, a time to make political gains in the most honorable way possible: by fighting for what’s right. Today’s radical Republicans want to destroy government and slash the very spending that’s needed to rescue the economy. The GOP is even rejecting the common sense spending on roads and bridges embraced by past Republicans from Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush. As austerity measures eviscerate Europe’s economy and undermine the political popularity of its leadership, this should be the Democrats’ finest hour. Unfortunately, too many Democratic leaders have preferred to echo the austerity rhetoric of their Republican opponents — and of Europe’s embattled leaders. The president’s last debt deal with John Boehner was a milder version of European austerity, and it slowed our country’s tentative growth. And yet he’s reportedly pushing for another “Grand Bargain,” leaving him with a muddled economic message, and Americans in a prolonged state of fear.”

There is reason to believe that Americans may support government spending at least until there is stronger growth and more jobs. Americans may very well follow the French and the Greeks who have chosen to abandon austerity in favor of growth.

The near term fate of sustainable development hinges on governments adopting a policy of growth rather than a policy focused on austerity.
——————–
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: National Post/Getty Images

May 04 2011

20:56

Facing Four More Years of Harper Inaction, Canadians Must Rally Their Own Climate Leadership

Earlier this week, Canadians flocked to the polls for the fourth time in 7 years. This time around, the election was triggered when the minority government led by Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper was found in contempt of parliament in March for failing to release information related to the costs of proposed crime legislation and the purchase of stealth fighter jets.

From the moment the election was announced, Harper derided it as ‘unnecessary’, and ‘unwanted’ even though public polling clearly indicated widespread displeasure with his handling of the economy, public programming including programs for women, the environment, and for proroguing parliament twice. After the 2008 election, when voter turnout was the lowest in Canadian history (59% overall, and a dismal youth turnout of 37%), people wondered if this so-called ‘unwanted’ election would fail to motivate voters to the polls.

While pundits and pollsters made their best guesses leading up to election day, no one correctly anticipated the outcome. With just under 40% of the vote, the Conservatives finally won the majority they have coveted since ascending in 2006. The New Democratic Party (NDP) won 102 seats and formed the official opposition for the first time in history. The Liberal Party was reduced to a mere 34 seats, and the Bloc Quebecois lost 90% of its seats to end up with 4. On the positive side, Green Party candidate Elizabeth May won her party’s first seat in North American history.

Of the 14 closest ridings that Conservatives won seats, the combined margin of victory in all those ridings was 6,201 votes. That means the real difference between a Harper minority and majority was just over 6,000 votes. While 5.8 million people voted for Stephen Harper, another 9 million – the ‘real majority’ – voted for change. But, with his new majority, Harper no longer has to worry about impediments to his extreme ideology; he can ram his anti-science, pro-polluter agenda down the throats of the Canadian public. That spells trouble for Canada's environment, and it's especially bad news for the global climate.

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Despite the news headlines of Harper’s ‘victory,’ sixty percent of Canadians still don't support his economic policy. Harper will likely table the same budget that he presented before the election. It focused on the economy and jobs - and no, I don't mean green jobs. Instead, Harper continues to promote and prioritize policies that hold Canada back from a prosperous clean energy future.

The Harper budget proposes to slash funding for clean energy programs and efficiency incentives – all significant job-creation vehicles that happen to protect rather than harm the global climate system.

The Conservatives have yet to introduce climate legislation to meet science-based international commitments to rapidly curtail global warming pollution. Harper’s position isn’t expected to improve over his last 5 years of inaction and obstruction, during which he failed to put in place any meaningful policy to meet his own weak pollution reduction targets (that aren’t even science-based). These policies made Canada a laughing stock in Copenhagen and Cancun. Now, with four years of unchecked Harper power, we’ll likely see more of Harper’s embarrassing stonewalling at international climate change summits including this fall in Durban.

What else have we to look forward to?  Will the government continue to muzzle scientists, who are required to seek ‘pre-approval’ before speaking with journalists?  

Will Harper even end the wasteful stream of $1.4 billion in taxpayer subsidies to incredibly profitable oil and gas companies? Will he even continue to pay lip service by calling for a gradual phase-out of a small portion of these polluter subsidies? 

The world’s scientists have cautioned that climate disruption won’t wait four more years for a real Canadian action plan to materialize – if it does then – so we must act now, with or without Harper.

Even though we have our work cut out for us, this election caused a noticeable shift in Canadian politics, one that not only felt inspiring during the run-up to the election, but also one that produced a tangible outcome. The feeling that I have is like nothing I've ever experienced, and I know I’m not the only one who feels it.

A movement was born over the past few weeks, when Canadian youth woke up and engaged in politics. They are organizing. 

In my free time outside work obligations, I am one of those organizers. Some friends and I recently staged an action outside of a Harper press conference in Victoria. We criticized Harper’s campaign for failing to mention the issues that really mattered to young people – including climate and the environment.

Because of recent pressure on the Conservatives for kicking a student out of a rally and attempting to nix a special ballot on a university campus, a group of us were invited in (with no media present) to speak with the Prime Minister. In typical Harper fashion, we were allowed to ask 2 questions, the first about post-secondary education, the second about Canada’s horrible reputation for climate change inaction.

Demonstrating how out of touch he is with the most pressing challenge facing humanity, Mr. Harper seemed unfamiliar about the upcoming UN climate talks in Durban, and when he talked about Canada’s representative at the most recent climate talks, he referred to “Minister Prentice” (wrong guy, it was John Baird). At that moment, I worried for the future of my country.  

And I'm not alone. Many people fear what a Conservative majority will mean for the issues that many Canadians care about: banning dangerous tanker traffic on the west coast, ending dirty energy subsidies, and creating binding legislation for global warming pollution reductions. We are faced with an uncertain future, while scientists continue to alert us that there is no time to waste. 

We must work together to hold this government accountable. We need to work together for our First Nations communities that are suffering environmental anguish, for the accountability and oversight necessary to rein in the dirty tar sands boom, and for investment in a renewable energy future. We must demand a clean future, and a world that is safe for our children. 

Over the coming months and years, we must be vigilant, and work with an urgency and sense of purpose. We don't have time to wait for a new government to respond to the environmental crisis. We must respond now.

We must lead now. To the 'real majority' of Canadians out there, are you ready?

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October 06 2010

15:31

September 07 2010

19:28

Street Cred vs. Green Cred

Arizona's Green Party is not amused by a Republican operative's effort to recruit people from the streets to run as Green candidates on the November ballot.
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