Europe’s Determination to Decline

SÃO PAULO – In a heroic case of finding a silver lining in the bleakest of all situations, the European Union climate commissioner has concluded that the global economic crisis and recession actually provided a lucky break for everyone.

Commissioner Connie Hedegaard says that the slowdown in economic activity will make it easier for the EU to achieve its 2020 goal of ensuring that greenhouse-gas emissions are 20% below their 1990 level. In fact, Hedegaard believes that cutting emissions has become so easy that European leaders should be more ambitious and unilaterally aim for a 30% reduction below the 1990 level – an idea that has won support from David Cameron’s new British government.

This may seem like good news, but it is not, because there is a strong correlation between economic growth and carbon emissions. For almost all countries, higher emissions come from higher growth rates. And if you restrict carbon emissions without providing affordable alternative energy sources, GDP will falter. In other words, by advocating even deeper cuts in emissions, Hedegaard is, in effect, calling for an even deeper recession.

It’s worth noting that even before its current economic difficulties, Europe was unable to keep up with the growth rates of the United States, not to mention the emerging economies of India and China. To stay in the game, the EU acknowledged a decade ago that it needed to become uniquely inventive. Hence, the European Council’s Lisbon Strategy of 2000, which centered around a pledge to increase general research-and-development spending by 50% over the following decade. Unfortunately, Europe has done no such thing; if anything, R&D spending has actually declined slightly since then.