Low-CO2 emissions and social justice: the “smart” response to the global crisis

In accordance with the line of argument presented in the European Commission’s policy paper “GDP and Beyond,” GDP was rejected as a satisfactory basis for future policymaking whilst the concept of “wellbeing” was presented as a viable alternative, although this term has been amply discussed by economists such as Amartya Sen, consensus on its conceptualisation and measurement has yet to take place.

With this concept in mind, Iain Begg, Professor at the London School of Economics, highlighted three possible scenarios which could emerge from the current global economic crisis. The first detailed a situation where the crisis represents only a small bump in the road and where “flexicurity” and the Lisbon agenda prevail.

Essentially, business as usual in the hope that the crisis is an isolated event. The second scenario described a “lost decade” similar to that of Japan, where an atmosphere of “none for all and one for one” prevails and social policy is aimed at disaster mitigation rather than toward having a positive, forward-looking effect. The final and championed scenario featured a situation of “smart growth” where, as an extension of Joseph Stiglitz’s “3rd way,” public policy is reinvented to sustain a lifestyle based on low-CO2 emissions and social justice.
In other words, policymaking looks to understand and promote wellbeing in its various dimensions, which include environmental, economic, social and political.

Andreas Kraemer, director of the Ecologic Institute in Berlin, argued further for a reinvention of political discourse by emphasising the unsustainable nature of current energy consumption patterns and its detrimental effect on wellbeing.
“A critical bottleneck has occurred as a result of global dependency on oil and gas. A hike in oil prices has fuelled the crisis by pulling purchasing power away from citizens who found themselves locked in an energy-dependent pathway. Regardless of whether oil prices went up, they still had to drive large distances to work.”

Kraemer identified the backing of timely and effective initiatives that aim to ensure environmental sustainability not only as key to the promotion of wellbeing but also as a “smart” strategy beyond the crisis.

“A similar situation to the one we are living now took place during the 1973/4 oil crisis and it was only when the second crisis hit in 1979 that the lesson was learnt and legislative change took place. Let us learn our lesson sooner rather than later.”