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Views from the Center


When we published the 2013 Commitment to Development Index (CDI) last year, we noted that among the overall disappointment in rich countries’ policies affecting poor people living in poor countries, there was some good news: global environmental policies of rich countries have improved somewhat in the last decade. Our new report written with the Ecologic Institute explains that although Europe has made significant progress toward protecting the global environment, further efforts are required.

The environment is a quintessential global public good. Greenhouse gases do not respect borders, meaning that the environmental policies of rich countries directly affect the lives of poor people, many of whom are most at risk from climate change and resource scarcity. That is why environment is one of the seven policy areas assessed by CGD’s Commitment to Development Index, which includes indicators of policies on global climate change, fisheries, and biodiversity and global ecosystems. 

Experts Agree but Policies Don’t Follow

Experts who met last week at a roundtable co-hosted by CGD Europe and The Centre, Edelman Brussels debate forum, unanimously agreed that protecting the global environment will benefit wealthy countries as well as the poor, at least in the long run. Yet there is little sign that their policies reflect these shared interests.  

European countries are doing better than most other countries on tackling climate change, at least on average. According to recent estimates EU is on track for meeting its 2020 greenhouse gas targets, and already stands below the 2020 Kyoto threshold commitment for annual emissions. The 2030 climate policy framework proposed by the European Commission aims to reduce EU domestic greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent below the 1990 level by 2030.   But does this go far enough? Not according to our experts. “Europe needs to be more ambitious,” they told us. But what is “more”? A reduction of 50 percent or 75 percent? No one seems to know. 

More Than Emissions

It isn’t only through climate change that developed countries’ environmental policies affect the poor.  For example, for more than 20 years, the EU has entered into agreements with developing countries to gain access to their fishing waters in return for financial compensation. Currently more than 25 percent of the fish caught by EU fishing boats originate outside EU waters. For example the EU-Mauritania fishing agreement allows EU vessels to fish in Mauritanian waters in exchange for €70 million a year (this is alarmingly little, given that fishing accounts for more than 10 percent of Mauritania’s GDP).

In principle, the EU will fish only where there is a surplus stock which the local fleet does not have the capacity to catch; but in the absence of good data, this surplus is impossible to estimate. Moreover, these partnership agreements have been criticized for their lack of transparency and their damaging impact on artisanal fisheries. This is another case in which managing our own natural resources has important implications for others. As one of the experts told us: “Because we [Europe] damaged our fish stocks, we are now depleting others; had we managed our fisheries better we wouldn’t have to look for fish elsewhere.”

On a more positive note, our report finds that European countries have achieved significant progress in reducing their consumption of ozone-depleting substances under the Montreal Protocol and as far as signatories uphold their current commitments under these treaties and their amendments, no further policy changes should be necessary.

You can find our draft report here. We are interested to hear what you think, so please get in touch. 


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.