Last month, the EU announced a series of groundbreaking proposals aiming to combat climate change. Seeing as how Europe is enduring a summer of unprecedented weather-related deaths and disasters, the announcement couldn’t have come at a better time. However, the EU seems to be forgetting the most important thing: it is not the only bloc that needs to transition to sustainable systems.
This month, scientists renewed their calls for immediate and urgent climate action, citing the ongoing heat waves and historic floods as proof that European cities are ill equipped for the realities of global warming. The European Commission responded with its “Fit for 55” proposal, which will aim to address the root causes of warming and slash greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent over the next decade, establishing Europe as the first net-zero bloc by 2050. If accomplished, these steps will be crucial in mitigating life-threatening climate change.
However, not everyone is happy with the news. Australia’s trade minister, Dan Tehan, condemned the EU climate measures—specifically the controversial Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM)—as protectionist policies which break WTO rules and hinder the global effort to combat climate change. Tehan said that the CBAM—which will tax imports based on their carbon footprint—is devised to fill Europe’s coffers rather than target carbon leakage.
And he’s not wrong. It’s easy to see how the CBAM and associated policies would unfairly manipulate the conditions of fair trade in the EU’s favor. The EU seems to have ignored how its policies would impact the developing world, which relies on trade to keep economies, industries and livelihoods afloat.
Of the world’s 25 richest countries, 15 are in Europe. This means the EU is well equipped to financially support policies which could bring real change on the international stage. However, time and time again the EU—blinded by its influential economic standing—misses the biggest thing, the one thing that is truly needed if we wish to combat climate change: inclusivity. Fighting climate change will require the foresight to introduce policies which include vulnerable economies.
Ultimately, every country on this planet must develop initiatives which address rising emissions. But not every country has the means at this time to do so. The EU’s Fit for 55 proposals would perpetuate these unequal playing fields and worsen existing economic and climate inequalities between countries.
The pandemic has already impacted global trade and posed economic challenges for developing countries. However, even before COVID-19, prominent economists claimed wealthy countries were trying to “kick away the ladder” from vulnerable countries attempting to join the economic elite.
For example, reports have already shown that since the EU banned palm oil as a biofuel in 2019, countries that produce palm oil have—in order to stay afloat—escalated trade with countries like China, which care less about sustainable production. The outcome of the EU’s ban? Not less palm oil, but more unrestricted and untraceable carbon emissions which impact the most vulnerable.
Ironically, the EU’s palm oil ban also ignored historic efforts on the part of palm oil-producing countries to address environmental concerns. For example, Malaysia’s national certification agency has successfully reduced deforestation by implementing a legally enforced scheme—called Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil—which prohibits deforestation and encourages biodiversity.
It seems the EU remains dead set on ignoring these countries’ efforts and forcing them to trade with each other, and not with Europe. This will create economic and environmental “ghettos” wherein rich nations enjoy the advantages of unrestricted trade and healthy environments, and poorer countries lose their economic autonomy while navigating rising carbon emissions.
If the EU passes all of the Fit for 55 proposals, poorer nations would lose out on the chance to trade with the EU, meaning their chances at achieving carbon neutrality would diminish along with their economic stability.
By discounting developing countries, the EU clogs the global effort needed to avert dangerous warming, and entrenches systemic economic inequalities which must be addressed if we hope to solve the biggest calamity facing our generation.
What is desperately required are solutions which involve these countries in the decision-making process. We can’t pass policies which leave these nations stranded without a lifeline—it will only lead to more devastation.
EU leaders will have one more opportunity to solve these complex issues at the upcoming COP26 summit. Let’s hope they get it right.
Dr. Ibrahim Özdemir is a world-renowned ecologist and is a consultant to the United Nations Environment Programme. He teaches environmental ethics and philosophy at Üsküdar University, Istanbul, Turkey.
To read the full commentary from Newsweek, please click here.