Module 2 – The next 40 years: placing sustainability at the heart of Europe’s policies

This module will address the prospects for the environment over the next four decades under various scenarios and, within that broad framework, focus on the EU’s priorities for the next five years.

It is widely acknowledged that continuing over the next forty years as we have over the past forty is not an option. Already there are indications that three of the nine planetary boundaries – defined by scientists as the thresholds or tipping points beyond which there is a risk of irreversible and abrupt environmental change – have been crossed. We are already outside the safe operating space for humanity. Europe’s contribution to this situation, both historical and current, is disproportionately large. Substantial changes in our production and consumption patterns as well as our lifestyles will be needed in order to live within planetary boundaries and thereby provide the poorest societies with the space and opportunity to develop. Stronger environmental policies, apart from being necessary, can create new business and employment opportunities. In fact, if Europe fails to innovate fast enough towards the low carbon resource-efficient economy promised in the Europe 2020 strategy, it will lose out not just environmentally but also economically to other regions. Whereas such considerations should provide the fundamental framework guiding Europe’s future development, this is currently not the case. Laws that aim to safeguard the environment and promote sustainability are under attack in the name of removing obstacles to economic growth, irrespective of the long-term detriment to environment, society and economy that will result from continuation of business as usual. Of specific concern is how the new structures and mandate of the Commission will deliver on environmental and sustainability objectives.

This module will address the following questions:

  • What should the EU’s top environmental priorities be over the next five years? And what are the greatest obstacles to achieving them?
  • Considering that remaining within a ‘safe operating space for humanity’ is probably the biggest issue facing society today, why does it receive so little attention from the politicians whose decisions could make a difference?
  • How should the Europe 2020 Strategy be revised to take greater account of environmental and social priorities? At a time when the global community is negotiating a set of universal sustainable development goals, should the EU review and renew the EU Sustainable Development Strategy and assert it as the overarching strategy for Europe’s future?
  • How can synergies between environmental objectives and achieving a sustainable and inclusive economic recovery be achieved? Is the old idea of ‘economy versus environment’ really dead?
  • What kind of instruments and approaches are needed to realize the potential for a genuinely sustainable circular economy with a focus on protection of the environment and ecosystems, eradication of poverty, reduction of inequalities, peace and security? What is the role of political leadership?
  • What governance changes are needed to ensure that environmental issues are at the top of the political agenda and are not just seen as something for Environment Commissioners, Environment Ministers, environment agencies and environmentalists?
  • How will the changes in the set-up of the new Commission affect its ability to use its right of legislative initiative to the benefit of the environment and long-term sustainability?