The Bled Strategic Forum panel on sustainability focused on how to translate sustainable development principles into policy action to tackle climate change and heard calls for a fundamental reform of production and consumption and a rejection of short-termism. The panellists agreed that Europe should take the lead at the global level.
Prof Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Center for Sustainable Development, argued that under the current administration in particular, the United States was in no position to lead when it came to sustainable development.
He said Europe was “more rational than US and it needs to do some leadership … Europe needs to be Europe, not 27 individual countries”. This requires an EU-wide plan, not just laws and declarations but a proper plan with administrative milestones such as emission targets.
Another reason why Europe should take the lead is because the most important segments associated with climate change – energy and agriculture – require a regional rather than national approach.
He also singled out as a major problem the fact that politicians are by default not technically competent to address such huge issues, and additionally they take a short-term view, mindful of the next election. Moreover, governments as such are not properly organized to tackle such challenges. It is feasible to get technical expertise into plans, but not the way governments are organized right now.
Prof Sachs also urged Europe to reject the US “Cold War mentality” in relations with China and join forces with China as an ally in the fight against climate change: instead of perceiving China as a threat, the EU should convince it to make its Belt and Road initiative more sustainable, he said, arguing that Europe had the leverage to bring China along.
Dr Janez Potočnik, Co-Chair of the UNEP International Resource Panel, focused on the need to make the transition to a circular economy as he outlined the massive problems facing the planet because of climate change that he said was making the global situation unbearable.
Much like Prof Sachs, he argued in favour of a fundamental change of economic system, in the way how humans produce and consume, highlighting as an example the climate benefits of car sharing compared to car ownership.
The science is already there, what is needed now is collaboration. “We need more shared sovereignty instead of owning sovereignty … Europe should be at the centre of global efforts,” he stressed.
Exploring why the transition to a low-carbon economy is so difficult in practice ,Dr Potočnik said the focus is on the short term instead of the long term, as the economy is driven by the logic of consumerism and profits as reflected in GDP.
He called for an intergenerational agreement that should put sustainability first. “It’s time to start talking about issues that are fundamentally important for our life and for our future.”
Dr Andrea Illy, Chairman of Italian coffee producer illycaffè S.p.A., outlined the efforts his company is undertaking with a view to making it carbon-free by its centenary in 2033.
While Potočnik noted how businesses are typically resisting sustainable practices due to cost, Dr Illy said that corporations should in fact put sustainability front-and-centre if they want to preserve and build value over the long term. He argued not doing so damaged companies’ bottom lines in the long term by potentially damaging their reputation and thus reducing cash flow.
He also called for a public-private partnership of sorts in fighting climate change, which he said was the only way to fight climate change given that at least three-quarters of global production was generated by companies.
“Corporations should be first to move … Sustainability should be strategic – it should be embedded in the business model,“ he argued.