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Any European review of 2012 is not complete without a description of the fundamental threat that the European project faced during the year, and which has still not been defeated. Economic tensions within the Eurozone grew to almost unbearable levels until the summer. The immediate threat has since receded slightly, but more and more people throughout the continent feel the economic hardship, most acutely in the southern and eastern member states. And although some economists say we’re turning the corner, that’s currently only visible in dry, macro numbers.
At the same time, the environmental and resource crises show no sign of receding either. The Arctic ice sheet broke its 2007 minimum record by a staggering amount, the US experienced its hottest year on record, and an ordeal of ferocious floods and storms hammered the planet.
Superstorm Sandy became a well-known phenomenon across the world because it hit New York, but other nations such as the Philippines were hit far worse. Resource nationalism is still on the rise. Our task as environmentalists is to convince people that getting out of the economic and resource/climate crises are two sides of the same coin. Both require strong leadership and a new style of politics. Tackling youth unemployment as well as pollution requires change, innovation, and the taking on of vested interests.
If we invest less of our money on natural resources (oil is, for us sustainable transport campaigners, the easiest example), we have more left to spend on people and jobs. Our energy will never be as cheap as in America, and our labour will never be as cheap as in Asia, so we should be efficient and we should be clever – exactly what is needed for the green revolution. The simplest example of this philosophy is Europe’s rules for car fuel efficiency, which in 2012 turned into the 2020-2025 timeframe. Essentially, this successful law means that Europeans spend less of their money on pointless oil imports and more on clever low-carbon technology, which creates jobs. And we are happy to say we are not the only ones who see it like that now; we have unions, auto suppliers, consumers and drivers, including the German ones, on our side.
Other key developments in 2012 were a long-awaited but half-baked proposal to make biofuels a less doubtful climate solution; tenser-than-expected negotiations on vehicle noise standards; somewhat improved prospects for more sensible EU infrastructure spending; and last but certainly not least, a good new law to clean up ship fuels and our air in coastal zones, which gives refineries and the industry perfect clarity that by 2020 85% of sulphur has to be taken out of ship fuels.
From a global perspective, two European climate laws get other countries very excited. The first one is a clean fuel law, the Fuel Quality Directive, which upsets Canada and its dirty tar sands. The second is Europe’s emissions rading law for aviation. The outcry over this one, in particular by the US and the industry, is truly grotesque and a sad reflection of a country and an industry in firm denial of any global responsibility for climate change. Europe took a time-out on both, for more study and more negotiation respectively, but both will be back in 2013.
Europe needs to stand firmly behind its values if it wants to emerge stronger from the crisis, in an economic and political sense. The world needs it.
Although we have an outstanding team that grew once more in 2012, we could not, of course, continue to change things for the better without the help of our members and our campaign partners. Especially now that national budgets are being squeezed and politics often focusing on the short term, it is of paramount importance to stick together, and to nurture and expand the network.
We will keep waging political battles for sustainable transport in Europe, in the front lines where possible, and more than once where needed. Europe will come out stronger thanks to it.