Commentary: Crisis changes priorities

Enviornment on the back burner

20 October 2008 00:00  [Source: ICB]

It may be counterintuitive to the comfortable citizens of wealthy nations, where industry is often cast in the role of villain, but economic development has, on balance, been a boon to the environment. For the impoverished of the world, going green is a luxury they can't afford.

With the global economy in turmoil, however, fear of impoverishment is spreading, and even some Europeans have wondered whether sustainability might be too expensive, if only temporarily.

Negotiations over the specifics of the European Union's climate change plan last week drew a range of worried commentary.

Hanns-Eberhard Schleyer, general secretary of Germany's Confederation of Skilled Crafts (ZDH), told the Financial Times that the EU should carefully consider the prudence of imposing additional burdens on business.

"We've got to ask whether certain measures, including environmental legislation, are responsible, given the economic outlook," he told the London-based newspaper.

Germany's foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, chimed in: "This crisis changes priorities."

And Italy's foreign minister, Franco Frattini, was quoted as saying: "The global emission targets should not be evaluated only on political criteria, but also on the basis of an assessment of its impact in terms of costs and benefits."

Proponents put a positive spin on the constraints the plan would impose. "Fighting climate change means investment in energy efficiency, promoting renewable sources and providing incentives to stimulate the economy and contribute to growth," said European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas.

Will environmental ambition succumb to economic necessity? A compromise is in the works. Only time will tell whether it can withstand the difficult times ahead.

Do you agree or disagree? Email the features editor, Clay Boswell

By: Clay Boswell
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