Time to slash the slush

According to Friends of the Earth Europe only 3 billion Euros out of the total 157 billion Euros of funding for the new member states and acceding countries in 2007-2013 are likely to be invested in sustainable energy projects. At the same time more than 20 billion Euros is to be invested in roads and motorways, which greatly contribute to climate-damaging greenhouse gas emissions.[1]

This is why politicians and ministries of environment in Central and Eastern Europe are so unenthusiastic about tackling climate change. So unenthusiastic that at the recent EU meeting trying to agree to a 20% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, the two countries opposing it were … Hungary and Poland.

Of course they oppose it, silly.

For the last ten years the EU has been egging them on to spend money digging holes and pouring concrete, and backing it with promises of big money. Waste management and water treatment were the big environmental things in those days. The nice thing about waste management and water treatment – and about building roads, of course – is indeed exactly the fact that you have to spend lots and lots of money digging holes and pouring concrete. That’s good because you are focussing someone else’s scarce resources on building important high-level skills for the future. Like mixing concrete. And in the construction industry it is dead easy to move cash about to where it is really needed.

Spending money on building landfill sites and water treatment while the you are blasting the air full of CO2, is like a guy driving up the M6 on the wrong side of the road at 120 mph, and popping an asprin because he has a headache. Over a ten year period rivers and groundwater are going to heal themselves. The climate won’t.

Now suddenly climate change has become the big thing. But as long as the Big Brussels Billions are backing Bechtel, Bouygues, and the infrastructure band, that’s where political attention will be focussed. Environment ministers won’t have time for climate change. There’s no money in softly softly.

There are two approaches. Either Brussels hikes up the climate change budget so that it looks as juicy as the dig-and-pour budget. Or you slash the slush.

At the very least Brussels needs to send a strong signal to Central Europe that climate change is the big one, and Central Europe needs to prioritise resources and political capital accordingly. Forget the acquis, the man who signs the cheque calls the shots.

[1] You can see it for yourself on: http://www.foeeurope.org/press/2006/MK_16_November_EU_Funds.htm

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