The impact of the climate crisis.


The impact of the climate crisis.

Alma De Walsche and John Vandaele, translation by Lisa De Weerdt

23 februari 2010

Six out of ten Flemings want to ban heavy cross-country vehicles.

One out of two Flemisch citizens is in favour of a CO2-tax on meat consumption, six out of ten want to ban heavy SUV's and seven out of ten think that politicians are reacting much to slow. Flanders turns out to be thinking green, according to the opinion poll on the climate crisis commissioned by MO*.

Seven out of ten respondents is under the impression that the political decision making process evolves too slow and that now a government consisting of specialists has to force measures on society in stead of discussing about that endlessly in parliaments. Fewer than one out of five is still holding on to the democratic decision making process.
Hans Bruyninckx, professor International Environmental Policy at the KU Leuven and in the chair of Bond Beter Leefmilieu, is not astonished by these results. According to him, these results reveal how Flemings perceive the political events: laborious and slow decision making. But, according to Bruyninckx, the result is also a manifestation of the fact that many people put faith in specialists.
He thinks that the climate policy at best proceeds from a long-term vision, lead by professionals. The disadvantage is the enlarging distance with the citizens. Buyninckx is surely not in favour of an eco-dictatorship: ‘We can not leave society to technocrats and scientists. We have politicians to make the policy. On global level, there is the necessity for a global governance system, which is not becoming less, but more democratic, more representative.’
Peter Tom Jones, environmental expert at the KU Leuven and co-author from the book Terra Reversa, is pleasantly surprised by the big amount of believers in an expert-government. ‘The Netherlands are more evolved in this direction. You simply don’t progress if everything has to depend on elections every two years, which is the case in Belgium. Once the outlines are established by politics, it’s better to leave working out to a transition-arena of the people involved in a certain sector. In the Netherlands for example, they are investigating, together with the farmer organizations, how they can improve a larger supply of vegetable proteins or hybrid meat. Their government is also promoting ‘Thursday Veggie day’. Something we can only dream of.
43 percent think that emerging third world countries like India and China have to make the same efforts as the rich industrial countries, 44 percent doesn’t think so.
The UN proposition that was brought up for discussion in Copenhagen, had the starting point that the emerging countries would restrict their issues with 15 till 30 percent, with regard to their business as usual, before 2020. That proposition was not accepted. China, India and Brazil made the promise though, to make their growth less CO2-intensive.
Sunita Narain, manager of the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi, India: ‘Let us be clear, according to the Kyoto protocol and the Climate convention, India is not obliged to contribute. India has the right to pollute. But we do understand that we have to make contributions. India has proposed to make its economy 20 percent less energy-intensive by 2020. This is a substantial difference with regard to business as usual, and is going to cost us money. For this purpose we ask money and technology, in order to make the transition.’

° One out of three thinks that Europe has to receive environmental refugees from heavy stricken areas. 49 percent doesn’t agree.
Hans Bruyninckx: ‘I understand this figure. People think: “There are already so many people here and we have to receive those other people as well?” It’s the reflection of how people sense the asylum problems. The predictions about the climate refugees are very far apart. Somewhere between 100 million and 1 billion by 2050. These are no estimation but only a guessing. The UN-climate panel predicts a real dry out from the Mediterranean basin. When next a migration wave gets going, we can impossibly get rid of it. The present international agreements on refugees, recorded in the Convention of Geneva, are not up-to-date. But it is very difficult to change this convention. The policy on refugees is to help the people on the spot how to adapt to the circumstances.
At the climate conference in Copenhagen, Antonio Guterres, the UN-high commissioner on refugees, stressed the need for new tools to receive people who were forced to migrate because of climate elaborations. ‘Right now, there is a statute to receive stateless individuals, but not to receive a whole group of people, whose region has become uninhabitable. How to handle this group identity and different nationalities? In addition, there is a statute for temporary relief. But those tools are not sufficient for the new needs.’ Guterres also stressed the fact that Europe needs migration to survive and that it is much better to conduct an active policy instead of closing the door.

° 54 percent of the respondents are prepared to make a change themselves. They want to live more frugal and consume less in order to compensate the fact that hundreds of millions of Chinese, Indian and Brazilian people want to adopt our lifestyle. 33 percent does not want to make this effort.
The 54 percent that is prepared to live more frugal wants to undertake the following actions:
-         To put the heating lower (91%)
-         To use the car less (78%)  
-         To eat less meat (71%)            
-         To take an other mean of transport than an airplane to go on holiday (64%)
According to Hans Bruyninckx it’s absolutely useful to adapt your lifestyle. ‘As a consumer, every day, you make many choices, by which you can choose one direction or another. In addiction there is the policy to direct the people.’ But it doesn’t surprise him that 33 percent isn’t prepared to settle for less. Bruyninckx: ‘When you look at the most recent poverty report in Flanders, from the investigators of professor Jan Vrancken (UA), I can imagine that a lot of respondents themselves are on the verge of poverty, and who therefore will not be willing to live a more frugal life.

°88 percent thinks that the social houses to be built have to be passive houses.
According to the ground and property decree of March last year, there have to be another 43.000 social rental houses and 21.000 owner-occupied properties by 2020. The decree is an assignment for every city or municipality which in the present day have less than 9 percent social houses. For Bart Martens (sp.a), chairman of the commissie Leefmilieu in the Flemish parliament, it’s obvious to make those houses low energy houses. What about the outline of costs? Martens: ‘The extra cost of passive houses is 15 percent. But since social houses are built in cluster, this extra cost will be a little bit smaller. When we take the total lifespan of the house into account, this extra cost will disappear, in view of the considerable low energy costs. The government is also subsidizing energy for the people living in social houses; therefore the total outline of costs will not necessarily be more expensive. And in the mean time we have reduced the emission of CO2. Maybe we can search for additional financing for the extra costs in the building phase.

°60 percent thinks that heavy cross-country vehicles should be banned from ordinary traffic.
‘They should get those cars of the market.’ thinks Hans Bruninckx. ‘Unless they use a complete clean technology. Then you can still ask the question who needs such a car in Belgium? But the problem is more fundamental: we have to reorganize our traffic.’ Bruyninckx sees the preservation of mobility as an absolute priority for Flanders. ‘We are going towards a social crash. There is an urgent need for a different infrastructure, other stimuli or tools to sanction, a revision of the relation between inner cities and outer areas.’
Economist Paul De Grauwe thinks it’s striking that 60 percent of the respondents think that cross-country vehicles should be banned from traffic. ‘That is surprisingly high. I can understand that. Those cars not only have a higher CO2-emmission, they are also more dangerous for others. The owner of the cross-country vehicle is safer, the others are less safe. That’s a problem. Trying to radiate more power, machismo and confidence is ok, but not at others costs. Something has to change. In the price, risks to others and environmental effects have to be miscalculated. Another option is to limit the weight of the cars. Cars more heavy than 2240 English pound can be prohibited, in this way cross-country vehicles will be banned.’

°For 47 percent of the respondents, there can be a CO2-tax on meat consumption.
 Bruyninckx: ‘It’s correct that we eat too much meat and that meat has a heavy ecological footprint. The food industry plays an important role here, with the conscious choice to add sugar and fat. That costs energy and water. Food belongs to the “low hanging fruits” - things which are easy to reach - but food is a cultural theme and often hard to change.’
Degrauwe: ‘I would not start a separate CO2tax for meat – there is need for a general CO2tax. And if it’s working, it will influence the cattle-breeding as well.’

°53 percent sees the climate tax as an appropriate measure to finance the extra cost of special measures.
Hans Bruninckx: ‘A lot of people are in favour of this tax, but not many of them understand the structure of their taxes. Currently our tax system is not ‘green’ or durable. It’s a very complex matter. Nevertheless there has been a lot of research on this matter and there is a lot of know how. Especially politically it’s a difficult matter.’

Prime Minister Leterme reacts to the MO* inquiry.

Prime Minister Yves Leterme understands that seven out of ten people thinks the political decision making is too slow. ‘From the point of view (of frustration and the despair) from the people who are awaiting progress. But I do most certainly not agree on the position of leaving the decision making (even in this file) to specialists. For me, democracy is too important. You could even say that the social basis for environmental policy is attacked by a way too technocratic approach. The problem is not the EU doing to little but rather that the United States –the biggest polluters in the world- together with China, are in the way of making agreements on objectives on global level.’
Leterme is in favour of a climate tax. ‘Last year, for example, I proposed a tax on plain tickets. But the Flemish government rejected that, because of the airports in Deurne and Ostend, just as the Walloon provinces did because of Charleroi. That’s a pity. We have to evolve as quickly as possible to a global funding of global problems. The opposition against this is of regional or national level. We can only handle the climate change by a strong international organisation, to which we even hand over a part of our sovereignty and which doesn’t completely depend on contributions of national states, but which can also call on global taxes. In Paris, a few months ago, I plead for a financial transaction tax (formerly know as Tobintax). Challenges as global poverty, durable development and climate change have to be handled and financed on a global level. But here, we still clash with conservatism. Inside the federal government, there was willingness, but when Flanders and the Walloon provinces slow down this process, we can’t proceed.’ Leterme has brought up the same proposal in December. ‘But a transaction tax is something you cannot only apply starting from Belgium; at best you need an agreement between the euro-, dollar- and yen zone. For the flight tax, at least you have to start with the majority of the EU-members. But this doesn’t mean we are paralysed. It hasn’t been so long, the advocates in favour of the Tobintax have been jeered at. Today however, everybody is talking about it; all great European political families are now looking for a way to implement this tax. Therefore, change is possible.’