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Hastily designed economic bailouts threaten nature, advocates warn

Jan. 13, 2012
Courtesy of WWF
and World Science staff

Bail­out plans for economies floun­der­ing amid the af­ter­shocks of the 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis are threat­en­ing the en­vi­ron­ment, ad­vo­cates for nat­u­ral re­sources warn.

Hard put to re-ignite busi­ness ac­ti­vity, be­lea­guered politi­cians are toss­ing aside the mod­est en­vi­ron­men­tal safe­guards that used to mod­er­ate the strain on nat­u­ral re­sources posed by some of this ac­ti­vity, the en­vi­ron­men­talists say.

The World Wild­life Fund, a Geneva-based en­vi­ron­men­tal or­gan­iz­a­tion, sent let­ters out­lin­ing the con­cerns on Jan. 6 to In­terna­t­ional Mon­e­tary Fund Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor Chris­tine La­garde and Eu­ro­pe­an Com­mis­sion Pres­ident José Man­u­el Bar­roso.

“The cri­sis, in ad­di­tion to be­ing grounded in mis­man­age­ment of na­t­ional fi­nances, is a re­flec­tion of a de­fi­cient eco­nom­ic de­vel­op­ment mod­el built on over­con­sump­tion and a steadily in­creas­ing ec­o­log­i­cal def­i­cit and nat­u­ral re­source over­ex­ploita­t­ion,” fund of­fi­cials wrote.

Fo­cus­ing on fi­nan­cially strick­en Greece, the group not­ed a se­ries of sig­nif­i­cant en­vi­ron­men­tal set­backs re­sult­ing from the “e­co­nom­ic ad­just­ment pro­gram” for Greece ap­proved in May 2010, co-financed by the IMF, the Eu­ro­pe­an Com­mis­sion, and the Eu­ro­pe­an Cen­tral Bank. The let­ters iden­ti­fy the fol­low­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems oc­cur­ring be­hind the head­lines of the im­pend­ing Greek eco­nom­ic and so­cial cri­sis:

• Scrap­ping of Greece’s ‘green fund’ and ab­sorp­tion in­to main state budg­et

• Ax­ing of en­vi­ron­men­tal per­mit­ting regula­t­ions

• Em­pha­sis on large in­vest­ments with ques­tion­a­ble en­vi­ron­men­tal scru­ti­ny

• After-the-fact le­galisa­t­ion of il­le­gal de­vel­op­ments in pro­tected ar­eas

• Hasty and un­con­trolled sale of pub­lic lands

• Down­siz­ing of en­vi­ron­men­tal staff in pub­lic au­thor­i­ties

• Dis­man­tling of en­vi­ron­men­tal gov­ern­ance in­sti­tu­tions

• Ques­tion­a­ble sup­port go­ing to dirty en­er­gy sources, in­clud­ing coal

“Dur­ing the past 15 years, WWF has re­peat­edly called on in­terna­t­ional fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions, in­clud­ing the IMF, to re­vise their lend­ing poli­cies and sup­port the tran­si­tion of fi­nan­cially trou­bled coun­tries to­wards a de­vel­op­ment path that is en­vi­ron­men­tally and so­cially sus­tain­a­ble. This call has be­come more ur­gent as eco­nom­ic ac­ti­vity is rap­idly sur­pas­sing na­ture’s budg­et,” said Jim Leape, di­rec­tor gen­er­al of WWF In­terna­t­ional.

“Now is the time for the Eu­ro­pe­an Com­mis­sion to hon­our its role as guard­i­an of the EU’s treaties and en­vi­ron­men­tal poli­cies,” said Tony Long, Di­rec­tor of WWF’s Eu­ro­pe­an Pol­i­cy Of­fice. “We call on the Eu­ro­pe­an Com­mis­sion to ex­pand its con­si­der­able work on sus­tain­abil­ity – not as a sep­a­rate agen­da, but rath­er as a pil­lar for du­ra­ble and healthy economies, even in times of fi­nan­cial duress.”


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Bailout plans for economies floundering amid the aftershocks of the 2008 financial crisis are threatening the environment, advocates for natural resources warn. Hard put to re-ignite business activity, beleaguered politicians are tossing aside the modest environmental safeguards that used to moderate the strain on natural resources posed by some of this activity, the environmentalists say. The World Wildlife Fund, a Geneva-based environmental organization, sent letters outlining the concerns on Jan. 6 to International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso. “The crisis, in addition to being grounded in mismanagement of national finances, is a reflection of a deficient economic development model built on overconsumption and a steadily increasing ecological deficit and natural resource overexploitation,” fund officials wrote. Focusing on financially stricken Greece, the group noted a series of significant environmental setbacks resulting from the “economic adjustment programme” for Greece approved in May 2010, co-financed by the IMF, the European Commission, and the European Central Bank. The letters identify the following environmental problems occurring behind the headlines of the impending Greek economic and social crisis: • Scrapping of Greece’s ‘green fund’ and absorption into main state budget • Axing of environmental permitting regulations • Emphasis on large investments with questionable environmental scrutiny • After-the-fact legalisation of illegal developments in protected areas • Hasty and uncontrolled sale of public lands • Downsizing of environmental staff in public authorities • Dismantling of environmental governance institutions • Questionable support going to dirty energy sources, including coal “During the past 15 years, WWF has repeatedly called on international financial institutions, including the IMF, to revise their lending policies and support the transition of financially troubled countries towards a development path that is environmentally and socially sustainable. This call has become more urgent as economic activity is rapidly surpassing nature’s budget,” said Jim Leape, director general of WWF International. “Now is the time for the European Commission to honour its role as guardian of the EU’s treaties and environmental policies”, said Tony Long, Director of WWF’s European Policy Office. “We call on the European Commission to expand its considerable work on sustainability – not as a separate agenda, but rather as a pillar for durable and healthy economies, even in times of financial duress.”