Europe and Central Asia
12 Dec 2014

The wrong path

By Luca Bonaccorsi
Fifteen years ago President Clinton deregulated the financial sector. Eight years later, the banking sector collapsed, sending the world into recession. Today, Juncker wants to get “growth and jobs” by deregulating the environment. No lessons learned?
To common people it is the “extraordinary festival of life” in this unusual corner of the universe called Earth. To scientists it reads “biodiversity”. To us, at BirdLife, it is a lifetime passion, a mission and a daily fight.
That’s why the backbone of BirdLife’s work is the study, designation and protection of Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs). Year after year the patient, and often obscure, work  of scientists across the planet has designated over 12,000 IBAs.  
In the last few weeks a wealth of publications has been released by BirdLife. From the extensive IBAs in Danger inventory, to the Marine Natura 2000 assessment report.
Where is Nature most at risk? What are the problems and potential solutions? This valuable information can be found in our studies (and synthetically in this article), often the main reference for institutions that plan conservation measures.   
The messages contained in our reports, overall, repeat one alarming message: we keep destroying habitats and endangering the “festival of life”, through careless neglect and culpable plunder. It is us, human beings, that are impoverishing and degrading our living planet.
We cover our fields with biocides, concrete and tarmac. We consume resources and dump our waste which poisons the water of rivers and seas. We chop down and burn trees way faster than they can possibly regrow. And we’re altering our climate, setting the stage for unpredictable and possibly catastrophic consequences.  
Europe is (was?) a world leader in the protection of the environment. It has made important steps in starting to slow or even reverse the trend of environmental degradation. But that leadership is at risk. Globalisation has undermined the basis of many old manufacturing economies, while a range of wrong economic and political choices have caused an increase in the gap between rich and poor. This has caused  a massive loss of jobs and destabilised the European social framework (with just one noticeable exception, Germany). Europe is poorer, scared and meaner.   
The new European "executive", Juncker's Commission, instead of responding with innovation and knowledge, seems to have chosen the wrong path: deregulation.
Jean Claude Juncker has announced that the way to “growth and jobs” is, essentially, the trashing of environmental legislation. Instead of trying to lower production costs and gain competitiveness with innovation and cutting back on the use of natural resources, the EU is about to lower its standards and safeguards. In practice, trying to emulate yesterday’s China instead of competing with tomorrow's China. Europe seems to have caved into trite ideology and ruthless economic interests often based in countries such as the Netherlands and the UK.  
When the rules that contained financial speculation were abolished in 1999 (the repeal of the Glass-Steagall act by President Clinton), the advocate of the “new and better regulation” brandished figures on the “systemic costs” for the US economy: 15 bln dollars a year in transaction and opportunity costs. Eight years later, the international financial system was bankrupt, ravaged by unsustainable levels of risk. The US government spent nearly 1,500 bln dollars to save its banks and insurances. President Bill Clinton finally admitted, embarrassed, that “he had made a mistake” only in 2011.   
Did we learn the lesson? Apparently not, if we are now ready to deregulate and bankrupt nature. But if Juncker, Timmermans, Cameron (and the more shadowy Catherine Day) haven’t learned the lesson... we have. European citizens will soon realize the extent of the attack on their life support system and they will not accept it. Juncker is still in time to change course. If he does not, there will be a stiff political price to pay.

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.