Europe and Central Asia
11 Feb 2015

Climate change: the oblique tragedy, the paradox and the birds

By BirdLife Europe

Climate change is like no other man-induced phenomenon: it will affect (meaning, starve and kill) the poorest and most defenceless on Earth. Most of which have done little or nothing to deserve it and in numbers never seen in global conflicts. It’s an “oblique” tragedy: we, in the rich economies, pollute today (and yesterday), and tomorrow someone in one of the poorest regions on the planet suffers. An ethical paradox that makes global warming possibly the most unacceptable of all externalities.

That’s what early economists called these phenomena from the beginning: “externalities”, referring to the accidental nature of these unwanted consequences of economic activities. It was the dawn of industrialization and the main problem was the pollution poisoning and causing early deaths amongst workers in factories.

Free market economists believe, to this very day, that externalities depend on some “inefficiency” in pricing: if “polluting” is too cheap, there will be “excessive” pollution. That’s all, really. A system of taxes/incentives/rules will, on paper, solve that (hence the much debated “carbon tax”, emissions trading, etc.).

Much has been done since then, in terms of nature and health protection, and yet today we are confronted with the biggest externality in the entire history of human kind. A market failure so big that it will put our entire civilization’s future in question.

Working to save birds and biodiversity does not imply, at any stage, an underestimation of the tragic ending we are meticulously writing for our story. On the contrary, a “birdseye” view, allows us to put this human tragedy in the wider context of one regarding all life forms on our planet. Birds included of course.

This is why today, BirdLife Europe proposes a “manifesto”, a list of “musts”, for the European Union climate and energy policy towards 2030: six “chapters” to help write a new book. 

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The Paper reads: «How the EU responds matters. How ambitious we are on climate, and how we deliver emissions cuts ‘on the ground’ in the energy and land use sectors, will greatly affect the world’s chances of averting a climate driven eco-disaster. 

We need more ambitious targets on climate action, and we need a better approach to delivering the new fuels, carbon sinks, energy technologies and networks of tomorrow. The world’s people and wildlife need an ecologically resilient climate and energy revolution, led by Europe».

It is not solely a “European Union” problem: if global warming has a “virtue” it is certainly that of showing us how interconnected we are, across species, lands, and time. A concept dear to Ecology but apparently ignored by Mr. Juncker, the fresh advocate of the latest “buzzword” in the EU: Energy Union.

In this issue, Ariel Brunner explains how the new Big Word in President Juncker’s vocabulary is supposed to breathe new life into a European project that has lost its appeal with citizens and national governments. At the moment, the Energy Union is an empty shell and every lobby pushes its own individual product or technology. The tangible risk is that we will end up with a muddled mess.

Ivan Scrase goes into some of the operational details of the energy transition and writes: "An Energy Union focused around prolonging the lives of nuclear and coal power stations and securing supplies of foreign gas offers no positive vision for the future... for Europe to remain a world leader in tackling climate change, the Energy Union and all EU energy policy must embrace and operationalize a vision of an renewable electricity-based energy system".

Although some success stories come from countries such as Germany and its Energiewende, writes NABU, real life examples of good ideas going wrong are abundant. A Decision nears in EU biofuels policy and yet strong limits on land based products have not been implemented, writes Trees Robijns, introducing a new website ( that will help you understand what is happening and help you make up your mind about this controversial issue.

An American friend from BirdLife’s Partner Audubon, Ginny Kreitler, reminds us just how troublesome the footprint of EU renewable policies can be for the entire world. It is a truly inconvenient truth: the wood pellet production for the EU energy markets creates a carbon debt and fosters unsustainable timbering practices. 

Will policy makers listen to bird experts? Roman Senators certainly consulted their great grandfathers, the Augures, writes David Howell, to take decisions regarding the future. A lesson from the past that should find a second youth in our times.

Enjoy the reading (and send us your thoughts)...​

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.