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Commissioner Potocnik gets it. Thoughts from meeting him

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Thanks to both the Green Alliance and the Aldersgate group, I was privileged to engage with EU Commissioner Janez Potocnik on several events in London on Monday. Such a great inspiration and reassurance that the EU Commissions gets sustainability.

Let me share with you some of the great points the Commissioner made.

– In one private meeting with several companies (all quite progressive sustainability leaders) where all the companies where asking for more regulation and proper standards on sustainability he said, in response to other companies who advocate less regulation: ‘Would you take out all the rules from football?’

What a great point. Of course we wouldnt because it would become a chaos where the strongest (and with less scrupulous, this is my own words) would benefit, not the most talented. The most succesful sport in the planet is heavily regulated but the rules are clear and are consistent.

– ‘Slovenia who was the strongest country in the former Yugoslavia and thought would benefit the most from the breakdown, lost 20% of GDP after the separation’. That tells you how interlinked the economies are and how important is the internal market and having same standards across the EU.

Other points from his various speeches on Monday were:

-Today material costs already make up more than 40 % of total costs in manufacturing industries compared to less than 20 % for labour – we need innovation and ingenuity to improve our resource productivity beyond labour productivity.

-During the 20th century the world population grew four times, its economic output 40 times. We increased our fossil fuel use 16 fold, our fishing catches by a factor of 35 and our water use 9 fold. It was called the “great acceleration”, but I am afraid that we might hit the wall soon.

-87% of European Companies expect the costs of their material inputs to increase over the next 5 to 10 years.

-Every year in Europe, we use 16 tonnes of materials per person per year to keep our economy going; and we produce 6 tonnes per person per year of waste; with half of that going into landfill. This is not sustainable. It’s more of a linear economy than a circular economy

-A one percentage point gain in resource productivity can save € 23 billion a year to European businesses, and could help them create 150,000 jobs

-It is a mystery to many people that we are prepared to sacrifice scarce public resources at a time of budget austerity in order to do damage to our environment. Just one small example is tax breaks for company cars – these cost € 50 billion a year, and increase our greenhouse gas emissions at the same time! You could also ask why we are taxing employment so heavily when we have 12 million unemployed and resources so lightly when we have environmental problems. So getting the prices right means also getting taxes and subsidies right. That means a shift away from taxing employment and on to resource use

Download the full speeches from Monday here:

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