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By Rebecca Humphries, Senior Public Affairs Officer at WWF European Policy Office

WWF is one of the world’s largest and most experienced independent conservation organisations, with over five million supporters and a global network active in more than 100 countries. The European Policy Office contributes to the achievement of WWF’s global mission by leading the WWF network to shape EU policies impacting on the European and global environment.

Before it’s even over, 2020 is already a year like no other. It has been marred by an unprecedented crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, affecting people’s health, livelihoods, and social connections, with no end currently in sight.

Governments across the world have adopted measures to address the economic fallout of the crisis. In the EU, leaders have subscribed to calls for a ‘green recovery’ – but already there are signs that short-term economic interests are being prioritised over longer term considerations of environmental and social sustainability. This crisis has arrived at a time where we are facing an ecological crisis without precedent: runaway climate change and biodiversity loss are driving us towards a sixth mass extinction.

The wrong choices could have catastrophic implications for future generations: propping up destructive sectors such as fossil fuel energy or intensive agriculture with public funding could lock in investments for decades to come, making it all the more difficult to tackle the ecological crisis we’re facing.

That’s why WWF believes that now is the time for a paradigm shift, to take the EU on a different trajectory. Our new report ‘Towards an EU Wellbeing Economy – a fairer, more sustainable Europe post Covid-19’ calls on EU leaders to rethink what to prioritise and how to measure progress. With GDP growth as the only basis for political decision-making, policy-makers will inevitably miss what their citizens value most, such as our quality of life, wellbeing, health, and the health of our natural world. GDP growth fails to account for social inequalities and neglects the many benefits of thriving nature and a healthy society – new indicators that measure these important aspects would help leaders to better value our societies’ and our planet’s wellbeing.

There are already promising first signs of a paradigm shift: last year, EU Member States supported calls for ‘the economy of wellbeing’, tentatively following in the footsteps of countries such as New-Zealand, Iceland, Scotland and Wales, which are already working on implementing a wellbeing economy by integrating alternative measures into their decision-making, budgetary processes and economic policies. Just last month, the European Commission recognised that the health crisis had ‘reignited the debate on what kind of economic growth is desirable, what actually matters for human wellbeing in a world of finite resources and on the need for new metrics to measure progress beyond GDP growth’.

Now, we must ensure that the EU goes beyond words on paper. With this report, WWF is calling for a new framework for measuring progress, built on a shared commitment across the EU to shift to a wellbeing economy. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), already provide a comprehensive, integrated and universal framework that aims to leave no one behind and to achieve prosperity for people and planet. By stepping up its efforts to fully implement the SDGs, the EU now has an opportunity to achieve this shift and deliver on its promises of a green, just, and socially inclusive recovery.

On September 23rd, you can support the WWF in making that a reality. WWF is hosting a webinar with WEAll’s Amanda Janoo, and Club of Rome member and WEAll Ambassador, Sandrine Dixson.

The ideals of a wellbeing economy were endorsed by the European Union (EU) in October 2019 and the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) in January 2020, adding to the growing number of governments that are interested in the co-creation of a wellbeing economy in their areas.

The WWF is now calling for the European Commission, European Parliament, and the Member states to take direct actions to implement a wellbeing economy, which are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.

In its 22- page report to be released on September 23rd, the WWF outlines it recommendations on which new measures of progress are needed to guide a wellbeing approach.

With the SDGs as the guiding tool, the recommended Wellbeing Economy strategy would:

  • Balance the social, environmental and economic dimensions of the recovery from the current health and economic crisis
  • Respond to calls from the EU Council for a common EU approach to the economy of wellbeing
  • Provide an EU strategy for implementing the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, five years after their international adoption

Learn more about what it will take for the EU to adopt a wellbeing economy at WWF’s upcoming webinar on September 23rd. Register here.

Guest speakers include:

  • Amanda Janoo, Knowledge and Policy. Lead,  Wellbeing Economy Alliance
  • Estelle Goeger, Commissioner Gentiloni’s Cabinet, European Commission
  • Ester Asin, Director, WWF European Policy Office
  • Taru Koivisto, Director, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health of Finland

A landmark new briefing from the European Environment Agency published this week has revealed that consumption of clothing, footwear and household textiles in the European Union (EU) uses annually about 1.3 tonnes of raw materials and more than 100 cubic metres of water per person.

The report recommends that a wide-scale change towards circular economy in textiles production and consumption is needed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, resource use and pressures on nature.

The EEA briefing ‘Textiles in Europe’s circular economy’ presents the latest evidence on environmental and climate impacts from the consumption of textile products ranging from clothing and footwear to carpets and furniture in the EU. The briefing is based on a technical report by the EEA’s European Topic Centre on Waste and Materials in a Green Economy (ETC/WMGE).

According to the EEA study, the production and handling of clothing, footwear and household textiles that were sold in the EU in 2017 used an estimated 1.3 tonnes of primary raw materials and 104 cubic metres of water per EU person. About 85 % of these materials and 92 % of the water were used in other regions of the world.

For water consumption and the use of primary raw materials, clothing, footwear and household textiles represent the fourth highest consumption category in the EU, after food, housing and transport. The same product group causes the second highest pressure on land use (after food), and also a considerable amount of chemical and water pollution, including plastic microfibres released through washing, as well as various negative social impacts.

The EEA briefing also shows that the production of clothing, footwear and household textiles for Europeans caused an estimated 654 kg of CO2 equivalent emissions per EU capita, making textiles the fifth largest source of CO2 emissions linked to private consumption. About three quarters of these emissions took place outside of the EU.

Circular economy policies and principles, such as eco-design and reusing, hold potential to mitigate the environmental and climate impacts of textile production and consumption, the EEA briefing states. Current EU policies require Member States to collect textiles separately by 2025 and ensure that waste collected separately is not incinerated or landfilled.

According to the EEA, circular business models in textiles — such as leasing, sharing, and take-back and resale — need to be scaled up with the support of policies addressing materials and design, production and distribution, use and reuse, collection and recycling. This can include policies such as sustainable production and product policies, eco design and durability standards,  green public procurement, safe and sustainable materials, waste prevention and  extended producer responsibility, and labelling and standards.

Download the report here

This Europe Day, the Wellbeing Economy Alliance is proud to support a pan-European campaign for a Sustainability and Wellbeing Pact, led by our member the European Environmental Bureau (EEB).

An open letter (click to download PDF – full text also below), demanding that the EU prioritises wellbeing over growth, has been signed by over 200 experts across the continent and received media coverage in 16 countries today.

WEAll members and Ambassadors are amongst the signatories, including WEAll co-founder and Ambassador Professor Kate Pickett, who says: “Nothing is more important for Europe than system change to make sustainable wellbeing our number one priority – it’s time to act and make the transition we all so badly need.”

Coverage in: The Ecologist, The National

The full text of the open letter:

What Europe needs is a Sustainability and Wellbeing Pact

The echo from the streets of Europe and beyond is ‘system change, not climate change’. When climate activist Greta Thunberg met European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, she told him to talk to the experts, but what should they say?

We, system change experts from academia, civil society and cities, have some answers. Last autumn, a group of 238 scientists and 90.000 citizens asked for an end to Europe’s growth dependency and at a Growth in Transition conference in Vienna we made this more concrete. We look beyond increasing GDP towards a positive plan for a post-growth economy.

Our three key leverage points on HOW to launch a transition towards a thriving society within planetary boundaries advise policy-makers at European, national, regional and municipal levels on ways to confront the still worsening triple crisis of climate change, mass extinction and inequality.

Let’s be honest. Neither the Paris Agreement nor the Aichi Biodiversity Targets nor the current tax regimes are capable of dealing with these existential threats. As a group of scientists just wrote in Science: “The current measures for protecting the climate and biosphere are deeply inadequate”.

Deep changes are not only needed, but also wanted. A recent and massive poll taken all over Europe showed that a majority of Europeans now consider that the environment should be a priority even at the expense of growth.

Broad agreement was found on three major systemic changes. These three leaps are not excluding other solutions, but they all three are urgent, possible, needed, wanted and game-changing. They do require a visionary mindset and a can-do attitude. They require a mindshift away from incremental thinking, the mindset that has brought us to this point of crisis.

1) Dethrone King GDP, crown Queen WELLBEING

People want to thrive in a living world. Policies catering to GDP growth often sacrifice people and planet alike, while policies towards well-being help us heal.

Prosperity without growth is possible. Growth by over-exploitation of resources, safety shortcuts and pollution drive both people and planet to burnouts. Examples from Bhutan to New Zealand and Barcelona show that putting social and environmental progress before GDP really works.

Demands to the European Commission:

  • Turn the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) into a Sustainability and Wellbeing Pact (SWP).
  •  Change from “Jobs, growth and investment“ to “Wellbeing, jobs and sustainability“
  •  Establish a DG for Wellbeing and Future Generations led by the first vice-president

    Demands to countries, regions and municipalities:

  • Create a wellbeing and future generations portfolio at the heart of governance

2) From TAX HAVENS for the few to REDISTRIBUTION for the many

  • Tax wealth more and labour less. Tax pollution progressively and stop subsidizing it.
  • Two post-war decades of +-90% top income tax rates in US & UK became a rate (far) under 50% now. Most EU countries followed, leaving the rich off the hook. As a result, inequality has been rising steadily and a growing feeling of (tax) injustice has spilled into social unrest and populism. The Gilets Jaunes uprising in France showed that you can’t tax pollution without a fair taxation system. Subsidies supporting pollution and resource overuse need to end immediately and pollution/carbon taxes must be used to promote welfare for the poorest.

Demands:

  • Set top income tax rates above 80% for redistribution to low- & middle-income families.
  • Tax air travel for redistribution to better and low to zero-cost public transport1.
  • Launch progressive carbon and resource taxes at the source and redistribute.
  • Provide tax incentives for the use of recycled materials.

 

3) EFFICIENT products are good, SUFFICIENT solutions are great

Efficiency gains are important, but only the beginning of the solution

Social and cultural exclusion can undo efficiency gains. We don’t need to sell more products, we need sufficient solutions that are long-lasting. Some companies already sell the service of having light, instead of the product of a light bulb, reversing the incentive from planned obsolescence to long lasting products. Barcelona’s zero-waste strategy includes advanced separate waste collection systems with smart waste containers to identify users and reduce residual waste as well as boost biowaste catchment – going much further than awareness raising, prevention, and support for reuse.

Demands:

  • Support the development of better business models like the product-service economy.
  • Implement zero waste strategies at all governance levels following the waste management

    hierarchy for operations and extended producers’ responsibility schemes.

  • Decrease the VAT on labour-intensive services such as repairing.
  • Leap from efficiency to sufficiency policies to make sustainable lifestyles the default.

This elections year, it is hard to imagine that European citizens will be satisfied with shallow political promises: they are furiously standing up against business as usual.

All over Europe, youth climate strikers are hitting the streets of cities and pushing to exit our brown, fossil fuel-based economy, which is supported by financial investors because it is (still) more profitable. In France, ordinary working people put on their yellow jackets and staged roadblocks for the whole of winter to protest against the government’s pro-finance, pro-business economic programme. In Greece, pensioners have held countless demonstrations against austerity policies, which led to cuts in their pensions, medicines, health insurance and to social exclusion in order to repay large amounts of borrowed money that mainly bailed-out German and French banks.

In actual fact, all these protests are linked because our environmental and social crises are consequences of the politics of financialisation that have transformed our entire economies and lives over the last thirty years.

Finance Watch has a clear vision how we can reform our financial system, but how ambitious are EU policymakers to make finance serve society?

We have checked the financial reform proposals of all EU Political Groups ahead of the European elections against a set of policy demands we think are key. Find out how the parties scored in our Finance Watch Guide to the #EUelections2019

We have analysed and rated the commitments separately in four areas of policy changes needed to make finance serve society:

  1. Stabilize the financial system,
  2. Democratise the financial institutions as well as financial policy making,
  3. Re-direct capital to a sustainable economy and
  4. Prepare for a future financial crisis.

What you can do

238 leading academics wrote an open letter to the EU this weekend, calling for the prioritisation of stability and wellbeing over GDP.

The experts, including WEAll Ambassador Kate Pickett, mention the vital role of WEAll in connecting the existing and  emerging wellbeing economy movement.

Read the full letter below or on the Guardian website here, where you can also see all the signatories.

If you agree with their call, you can add your voice by signing this petition to the EU.

The open letter

“This week, scientists, politicians, and policymakers are gathering in Brussels for a landmark conference. The aim of this event, organised by members of the European parliament from five different political groups, alongside trade unions and NGOs, is to explore possibilities for a “post-growth economy” in Europe.

For the past seven decades, GDP growth has stood as the primary economic objective of European nations. But as our economies have grown, so has our negative impact on the environment. We are now exceeding the safe operating space for humanity on this planet, and there is no sign that economic activity is being decoupled from resource use or pollution at anything like the scale required. Today, solving social problems within European nations does not require more growth. It requires a fairer distribution of the income and wealth that we already have.

 

Growth is also becoming harder to achieve due to declining productivity gains, market saturation, and ecological degradation. If current trends continue, there may be no growth at all in Europe within a decade. Right now the response is to try to fuel growth by issuing more debt, shredding environmental regulations, extending working hours, and cutting social protections. This aggressive pursuit of growth at all costs divides society, creates economic instability, and undermines democracy.

Those in power have not been willing to engage with these issues, at least not until now. The European commission’s Beyond GDP project became GDP and Beyond. The official mantra remains growth — redressed as “sustainable”, “green”, or “inclusive” – but first and foremost, growth. Even the new UN sustainable development goalsinclude the pursuit of economic growth as a policy goal for all countries, despite the fundamental contradiction between growth and sustainability.

The good news is that within civil society and academia, a post-growth movement has been emerging. It goes by different names in different places:décroissance, Postwachstumsteady-state or doughnut economicsprosperity without growth, to name a few. Since 2008, regular degrowth conferenceshave gathered thousands of participants. A new global initiative, the Wellbeing Economies Alliance (or WE-All), is making connections between these movements, while a European research network has been developing new “ecological macroeconomic models”. Such work suggests that it’s possible to improve quality of life, restore the living world, reduce inequality, and provide meaningful jobs – all without the need for economic growth, provided we enact policies to overcome our current growth dependence.

Some of the changes that have been proposed include limits on resource use, progressive taxation to stem the tide of rising inequality, and a gradual reduction in working time. Resource use could be curbed by introducing a carbon tax, and the revenue could be returned as a dividend for everyone or used to finance social programmes. Introducing both a basic and a maximum income would reduce inequality further, while helping to redistribute care work and reducing the power imbalances that undermine democracy. New technologies could be used to reduce working time and improve quality of life, instead of being used to lay off masses of workers and increase the profits of the privileged few.

Given the risks at stake, it would be irresponsible for politicians and policymakers not to explore possibilities for a post-growth future. The conference happening in Brussels is a promising start, but much stronger commitments are needed. As a group of concerned social and natural scientists representing all Europe, we call on the European Union, its institutions, and member states to:

1. Constitute a special commission on post-growth futures in the EU parliament. This commission should actively debate the future of growth, devise policy alternatives for post-growth futures, and reconsider the pursuit of growth as an overarching policy goal.

2. Incorporate alternative indicators into the macroeconomic framework of the EU and its member states. Economic policies should be evaluated in terms of their impact on human wellbeing, resource use, inequality, and the provision of decent work. These indicators should be given higher priority than GDP in decision-making.

3. Turn the stability and growth pact (SGP) into a stability and wellbeing pact. The SGP is a set of rules aimed at limiting government deficits and national debt. It should be revised to ensure member states meet the basic needs of their citizens, while reducing resource use and waste emissions to a sustainable level.

4. Establish a ministry for economic transition in each member state. A new economy that focuses directly on human and ecological wellbeing could offer a much better future than one that is structurally dependent on economic growth.”