The European Union is looking at taking a hardline towards reducing the environmental impact of its citizen as the ecological footprint of European countries is much larger than those of some other countries. As reported by the European Environment Agency this year:
“The total ecological footprint of the EU-27 Member States plus the United Kingdom is high and is now more than twice the biocapacity available in the region (i.e. the capacity of ecosystems to produce useful biological materials and to act as sinks of carbon emissions). The picture is similar for the EEA-39 countries. The region’s high ecological footprint means that its total demand for ecological goods and services exceeds that which Europe’s ecosystems can supply. This results in a large ecological deficit, which has negative consequences for the environment within and outside Europe.”
This assessment of the EU member states’ biocapacity provides a dynamic step towards reducing the ecological footprint of the EU as solutions can be only be found when the problems are known.
The shortfall of the EU’s ecosystems to produce food, is a problem that was acknowledged decades ago when the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was launched. Its stated aim today being:
- support farmers and improve agricultural productivity, ensuring a stable supply of affordable food;
- safeguard European Union farmers to make a reasonable living;
- help tackle climate change and the sustainable management of natural resources;
- maintain rural areas and landscapes across the EU;
- keep the rural economy alive by promoting jobs in farming, agri-foods industries and associated sectors.
These are noble goals as the sustainability of any country or countries in the EU’s case, must focus on its ability to feed its citizens from its own farms.
Those goals have unfortunately not been realistic, especially for biodiversity in Europe which is one of the most threatened globally. The extinction of large mammals in Europe is well documented as human needs took priority over the conservation of wildlife and forests. The culling of predatory wildlife like wolves continues to dominate the conservation debate in Europe as farmers seek to protect meat bearing flocks.
What is most disconcerting has to be the threat to extinctions of the most fundamental building blocks of biodiversity. For example, the super charged effort to produce food for its own citizens is leading to alarmed cries of the extinction of birds and bees in Europe.
The EU may well ban the use of pesticides to save the bees and birds but loopholes as exposed by Greenpeace continue to threaten them. The ‘emergency measures’ loophole provided by the EU allowed for the use of neonics on everything from keeping golf courses green to protecting rapeseed and sugarbeet industries, both of which are accepted by the EU as ‘sustainable’ feedstock for renewable energy as biofuels.
As the EU continues to search for answers to reduce the ecological footprint of its citizens, renewable energy has entered the spotlight as EU countries look away from fossil fuels as a source of energy. The most controversial move has been to pin-point palm-oil based biofuels as an ‘unsustainable’ source despite the protestations of palm oil producing countries.
There is no doubt that the EU has to move away from fossil fuels which has caused this climate change being experienced globally but its search for greener alternatives than palm oil is uncovering more problems than the EU expected.
A report on the rare minerals needed to support wind and solar energies was well covered by Euractiv Editors who wrote:
‘Increasing the EU’s domestic supply of critical raw materials and cutting external dependencies got top billing in a new European Commission strategy on Thursday (3 September), as the bloc started to get serious about its Green Deal and digital agenda.
“A secure and sustainable supply of raw materials is a prerequisite for a resilient economy,” said Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, who added that “we cannot allow to replace current reliance on fossil fuels with dependency on critical raw materials.”
This move away from fossil fuels and dependency on China for critical raw materials has been greenwashed by the Green Deal which has in its sights, the rare earth mineral deposits in Africa. This is no Green Deal for Africa. China’s experience with rare earth mining has shown a negative environmental impact from which African biodiversity may not be able to recover from.
This Eurocentric approach to reduce the ecological footprint of its citizens is not a Green Deal, especially for nature or impoverished people outside of Europe. Investments into Africa to create a new strategy between Europe and Africa may create some jobs in clean energy for Europe but what will Africans eat?
An equitable approach to a sustainable human population cannot include policies and subsidies for European farmers that force their African counterparts to starve.
‘A quarter of German wheat exports went to Africa in 2016. But this seeming contribution against hunger and misery obstructs development aid. African farmers can’t compete against cheap European wheat with their domestic produce.’
Double standards on how the EU treats its own peatlands are another stark example of how any Green Deal ambition will only serve as window dressing for a global solution.
The ‘green’ concepts as presented must be disputed if the European Union is to pay its rightful dues towards creating a sustainable planet. It goes without saying that the search for sustainable lives in the European Union must begin with the ecological footprints of its citizens. However, the age-old incapacity of its ecosystem to sustain its population must be acknowledged alongside with the needs of people in countries where EU footprints are stamped.
That has to start with acknowledging that palm oil is a crop that is needed by Africans and Europeans alike for food and fuel. The broken conversations on sustainability which have been separated by discussions around the CAP, renewable energy and Farm2Fork must be discussed as one conversation for one planet if the EU is to have an impact on mitigating climate change.
(Continues to Part 2)