Preparations are well underway for the next seven year EU budget, covering 2014 to 2020. This budget – the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) – has a lot of work to do. As well as tackling high unemployment rates across Europe, with some countries exceeding 30 per cent youth unemployment, the deadlines for climate change and environmental targets, set when the economic situation was a lot rosier, are fast approaching. By 2020, EU Member States have to achieve a 20 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and energy use and ensure 20 per cent of energy use comes from renewable resources. The EU cannot tackle these issues without acknowledging and addressing them in its budget.
A number of environmental NGOs have suggested that these two issues, the unemployment and environmental crises, can be addressed together. In a recent study – Investing for the Future: More Jobs out of a Greener EU Budget – it is argued that investing in green projects also means investing in jobs and economic stability. It is not just those working in the environmental sector that can see the potential for green investment, a Eurobarometer survey from 2011 revealed that 78 per cent of Europeans believe fighting climate change and greater energy efficiency can boost the economy and the job market.
Life+, the EU financial fund for the environment, is a perfect example of how beneficial green investment can be to the European environment and its people. As highlighted by a WWF publication, in the last four years Life+ received proposals from more than 200 projects requesting investment which it had to turn down due to a lack of funds. While other EU funds repeatedly end each year with a surplus, Life+ remains underfunded and unable to meet demand. Funding small, local projects works because it can better address national and local environmental and employment issues.
In comparison, it is argued by the collection of environmental NGOs that the two largest EU-funded policies – the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Cohesion Policy – are far less successful at tackling unemployment and green issues. Their research shows that the CAP and Cohesion Policy, which together receive 78 per cent of the EU budget, created or sustained a little over 1.1 million jobs yearly under the current MFF. Increasing the amount spent on a green budget to just 14 per cent would, they suggest, create or sustain over half a million jobs in the green sector. Green investment can create value for money not only for the environment but also for employment.
This is not simply a short-term solution to our unemployment and environmental problems. A sustainable economy, with investment for our future, will produce long-term employment and put a stop to the escalating costs of addressing climate change and environmental crises. Green investment can also make the EU more competitive in research and technological innovation. As natural resources become increasingly scarce those leading the way in renewable alternatives will be far better prepared.
The MFF for 2014-2020 has the potential to make real, long lasting improvements to the environmental, economic, and social crises in the EU but this potential has not yet materialised. The CAP and Cohesion Policy must have binding green targets; green funds such as Natura 2000 and Life+ should get the investment they need to support bottom-up projects; and any infrastructure investment has to be focused on sustainable programmes which plan for future needs not just the next seven years. As the final preparations for the budget are discussed in the Council, Commission, and Parliament, it is vital that they understand the need for greater green investment.
We are long past the time when tackling climate change can be seen as a luxury afforded only when the economy is booming. Green investment is vital not only for our environment, but also for quality of life, economic stability, job security, and ensuring the EU remains competitive on a global level.