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A formula for “EU-global cooperation in the 21st century”

Posted by Gertjan Storm on September 27, 2011 at 8.42 am

"International cooperation” has been the main focus of my professional career for the Dutch government. “Development cooperation” was central in my itinerary as from the early 1970s, starting in Latin America, and Africa with three assignments, in between 1980 and 2002. Assignments at headquarters at four occasions complete the picture. From this perspective of both policy and policy development on the one hand and implementation of initiatives on the other hand a number of observations spring to my mind, when looking at the role of the EU and of its member states in addressing the global sustainability agenda  the decades ahead.

Environmental issues have always been part of the “development”-agenda, intimately connected with poverty issues and to political and economic systems determining outcomes. Work with and for UNEP, and preceding policy work at headquarters - during the 1990s and up to 2004 -, stimulated my professional interest and curiosity to see what could and should be done to address the (then) emerging issues on the global agenda of climate change, biodiversity loss and ongoing poverty.

I see a number of issues in the ongoing debate about initiatives to be taken by governments in the domain of sustainability and of policies and measures to be adopted. A "One Planet Economy" provides an appropriate and relevant context from an economic perspective.

1. “Development cooperation” has evolved over the past decades, and debate has raged over objectives, outcomes and delivery. One permanent feature: “when does it work” and  the connected question of linking “aid” to e.g. “investment and trade”, or to human rights and “governance”. In parallel, the emergence of global initiatives in the environmental domain - resulting in a broad set of “multi-lateral environmental agreements” (MEAs)- has over the same past decades led to an impressive array of strategies and approaches to address the respective issues to be dealt with. The two “processes” occurred mainly in parallel, i.e. separately, and have not been considered in conjunction sufficiently.

The EU-agenda gradually took on the issues impacting on “development cooperation”, “aid” and outcomes by broadening the scope to “Policy Coherence for Development”, acquiring more operational status and potential impact with a two year- “rolling programme” recently. Environment- and trade- related subsidies, agriculture, migration and arms trade could be mentioned as examples of conflicting interests here.

The institutional setup of “development cooperation” on the one hand and “MEAs” on the other hand differs on some fundamental issues: -“Development Cooperation” is essentially based on voluntary commitments to policy-objectives and finance, is essentially fragmented, with divergences in terms of ODA-commitments, policy objectives and implementation - “methodology”. “Bilateral aid” has been a dominant delivery modality, with a very wide array of relationships with developing countries, implying a further complication of the picture and for obtaining satisfactory outcomes. “Policy Coherence for Development” has not proven to be the approach needed to deliver, in the absence of agreement about the objectives to be achieved and/or the ways to do so.

-“MEAs” are normative in character, with the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and capacities” among the UN-member states, and supported by regimes of compliance and enforcement to different degrees.

2. Recognition of the interconnected nature of the global issues of climate change, biodiversity loss and poverty has come to weigh in on the global agenda of “development” :  “Sustainable development” is now firmly on the UN-agenda and the follow-up in the “Rio-process” will be on the table in June 2012.

Risk to society globally and the need “to act now” upon the challenges related to the global issues in a long term-perspective, up to 2050, have extensively been identified and documented to allow for effective action on the basis of global cooperation.

A set of “global objectives 2050” have emerged, in the area of climate change and with regard to biodiversity loss. GHG-emission reductions of 95% by 2050 and a reduction by 90% of resource use in the EU over the next three to four decades can be seen as essential contributions to the objectives. The objective for poverty eradication has been defined in the 2000 “Millennium Development Goals”: a halving of poverty by 2015. A goal for the longer term seems to be absent and the MDG-goal 2015 to be unattainable as a consequence of the financial crisis and the subsequent economic and social crisis (e.g. ODA is falling, linked as it is to GDP...).

3. Unsustainable consumption and production patterns in the EU provide the key for the EU in my view to adapt to the requirements of the global agenda: “global sustainable development” as the symbol of common and mutual interest and the global public good, requiring global cooperation. An “EU-Sustainability action plan” based on the “global objectives 2050”, including an effective and convincing plan to address and resolve the poverty issue, would make the difference. “Rio+20” provides the opportunity for the EU to put an approach of this nature and ambition into effect.Addressing the unsustainable consumption and production patterns at home first can be seen as a necessary condition for success with the “global objectives 2050” and as the necessary condition for support to developing countries to engage with and implement sustainable development strategies as seen and formulated by these countries. Finance based on internalising externalities -carbon pricing and “payments for eco-system services” (“PES”)- would pave the way for financing the agreed targets and instruments (e.g. “technology transfer” and “capacity building”).

4. Solutions and “governance for sustainability” bring me back to work undertaken in science and in policy recommendations, in an impressive and broadening range of issues.  Solutions abound in society and governments will need to make the difference in order to try and attain the “global objectives 2050” in the most effective and equitable way, as a first order-issue at the global political level.

A focus on the most urgent and potentially very effective areas - and decisions not later than June 2012- would constitute a potential breakthrough. For the EU, addressing unsustainable consumption and production patterns would remain the number one priority.  At the global level - "Rio+20" provides the opportunity to deal with “REDD+” as the issue in developing countries to obtain agreement, with fundamental aspects of climate mitigation, restoration and preservation of biodiversity, and the financial proceeds (carbon and “PES”) to restore and preserve the environment and to support (indigenous) people as a priority survival-, poverty- and equity issue: an “ideal mix” of the three global objectives.

5. “EU-research for policy development” has attracted me in the joint process of the “One Planet Economy Network” and  of “InStream”, two EU-funded research projects focussed on policy for sustainability-work and the tools for it. The outcomes are now becoming available. The idea of a web-based tool is I think particularly interesting and opportune in order to have the widest impact possible. To share information ad knowledge and to act upon the sharing by launching cooperative initiatives should certainly make a difference in addressing and help solving the “global objectives 2050”. The important new insights into potential solutions for climate change and biodiversity issues as highlighted by respectively the IPCC in its special report 2011 on “renewable energy”, and by ongoing work on resources and "decoupling" by the UN (UNEP- Resources panel) and “PES” in the process of “The Economics of Eco-system services and Biodiversity” could be mentioned.

In the EU a wide range of policy areas related to the challenge of the transition towards sustainable consumption and production patterns in the EU - as a global issue- and the decision making in the near term - a new “CAP” and a new budget to name but these- could and should be connected to research work and to the tools as developed by the 2 projects.


Gertjan Storm,

Advisor science, policy and sustainability, “International Centre for Integrated assessment and Sustainable development”, University of Maastricht, the Netherlands,


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The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Community's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement N° 227065. The contents of this website are the sole responsibility of the One Planet Economy Network and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union. 
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