Sustainability: A Number of Policy Points Focusing on the Environment and Global Warming

by Yusuf Isik

The sustainability question needs to be answered. In this phase of economic development, its impacts on a number of domains need to be considered. Environmental problems, both in the form of global warming and also economic and social issues, are the primary concern. The political implications are also crucial.

Both domains have specific and common aspects regarding sustainability. The world economic crisis of 2008 illustrates vividly the need for economic sustainability. The environmental and climatic concerns related to global warming are more alarming because they, particularly the latter, raise survival issues relating to the near future. They are not just a question of standard of life.

All areas of sustainability involve a conceptual issue. The question is: what will be the impact of economic, and other human, activities on society and the world? And what about the future? Considering generations to come should be an essential criterion.

This question is gaining significance as the prospects of falling welfare and the struggle for long run survival appear to become more realistic. By virtue of its basic principles, social democracy is outstandingly well suited for adopting policies to ensure sustainable welfare.

For example in many instances the Tea Party representatives in the US seem to clearly disregard such concerns. But the comparison is of limited use and what matters most is to transform the conceptual position into concrete policies-and implement them.

What should be the main elements of such effective sustainability policies? Here are a couple of points relating to the environment and global warming that should be considered.

It is important to achieve a correct measurement of the scale of problems at hand and the trade offs involved, as well as a thorough assessment of the alternatives.

For example, it is necessary to identify clearly and objectively the exact role of different energy forms in terms of global warming. Also, in addition to the possibilities of other renewables, such as solar and wind energy, can there be definitively harmless, smaller, technologically different nuclear energy production machinery? The trade offs between economic activities and environmental and global warming concerns too need to be measured as accurately as possible. This will facilitate devising solutions that provide both safety and increased productivity. An example being a comprehensive transformation of the production process in terms of materials, type and quantity of energy. Usually such transformation would involve relatively long time periods and higher costs.

The necessary public sector support to producers can be provided to ensure the transformation. If this transformation is taken up at a sufficiently large scale and across a large number of sectors, it will have a positive job creating impact and open new fields of research and economic activity. A matching increase relating to these changes would need to be achieved in training and education. Such green transformation can thereby contribute to achieving a sustainable welfare increase.

On the other hand, this green production transformation also needs to be accompanied by a number of changes in life patterns. This has two reasons. One is that the production process changes involved are likely to necessitate new patterns in transportation or housing for example. The other is that knowledge available so far indicates that some global warming – estimated to be of the order of 2 degrees Centigrade – might be inevitable. Measures would only limit the additional increases. Hence adaptive changes in life patterns are called for.

Scientific and technological progress is a highly significant factor in terms of contributing to sustainability. Extraordinary new possibilities in terms of safe, clean, abundant, high quality production and new products are created through fields such as materials science, nanotechnology, biotechnology, supermicroelectronics, Information and Communication Technologies.

Obviously, caution is needed for such developments as well, but provided this caution is thoroughly exercised, science and technology can bring a huge contribution to the solution of the sustainability problems in the environmental and global warming areas. It would contribute significantly to the aforementioned green transformation of production through. For example, as it becomes increasingly possible to shape chemical contents of products, to a higher degree, new forms of material will be created.

Or, nanotechnology will contribute to solving outstanding problems in solar energy and electric vehicles. Such use of science and technology should not be considered a technical problem only. It is an economic policy question as well. Having an effective public policy with also the related support to researchers and producers is essential. With it, the development and use of the corresponding science and technology means for reducing environmental damage and global warming and preventing monopoly or  abuse of use of intangible resources situations harming this process can be ensured.

The European Union has a critical role to play in the environment and global warming fields. Its corresponding legislation and mechanisms – not that the resources devoted to this domain are significant – are crucial.

For example, in the case of Turkey, EU policy contributes to the adoption of better legislation in these fields in the course of the accession process. Though, the scope of such progress remains deficient notably because of poor implementation and very serious persisting problems. On the other hand, the scale of the environmental and global warming problems for Europe, and the world, is rising.

Alongside further improvements in legislation, a more common approach to the energy domain at ground level is needed. This will entail a higher degree of share of sovereignty. As illustrated in a different field, i.e. the economic crisis of the eurozone, refraining from achieving a deeper union can seriously harm sustainability. And, sharing further sovereignty in Europe, where this is clearly needed, will provide a valuable example to the world in such a crucial policy area.

To conclude, in the field of the environment and global warming, the policy scope and instruments aimed at sustainability need to apply to and bring together different economic sectors and policy areas. These include the economy, countries, disciplines, and also to extend to adapting to new patterns of life.

This column is  part of the Sustainability in the Good Society Online Debate jointly run by Social Europe Journal, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung London Office and Compass.

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