Back to school

Posted by oxfameu on 02/09/14

By Natalia Alonso, Oxfam’s Deputy Director of Advocacy & Campaigns

Here we are again. First week of September. Although this year’s rentréé will start with quite a few new EU faces.

The women and men who take on the European Union’s ‘top jobs’ – three Presidents, one High Representative, and later the full team of European Commissioners – will be immediately faced with not only the internal debates that so often dominate the EU’s agenda, but with decisions that affect the lives of ordinary people both within and beyond Europe’s borders, not least the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.

Next year is of immense significance to the fight against both climate change and global poverty, with the world’s leaders gathering in Paris in December in order to reach an urgently needed global deal to prevent climate chaos, and earlier in the year to agree on a new global development agenda for beyond 2015 as a successor to the Millennium Development Goals.

It is vital that EU leaders ensure that the priorities of not only climate change but the growing gap between rich and poor that hinders the fight against poverty are embedded in an inclusive and sustainable agenda. This agenda should include ambitious global goals matched with a binding commitment to provide the resources necessary to achieve them. This means meeting aid commitments, yes, but also discerning engagement with the private sector and the use of innovative sources of financing such as a broad-based and well-designed financial transaction tax (FTT).

This work can and must begin now, and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, whose country assumed the rotating EU Presidency in July, need not wait to take action. Most immediately, the Italian Presidency can see to it that decisive action is taken by Member States to ensure that the EU’s humanitarian commitments are fully funded and that life-saving activities can continue in Syria, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and many other places where people are in dire need.

Italy is well placed to ensure that the EU sets itself ambitious and binding targets ahead of next year’s climate summit for reducing carbon emissions and promoting genuinely sustainable solutions. Tensions in its neighbourhood are a reminder of the EU’s continuing reliance on imported fossil fuels. Instead of turning to expensive alternatives which commit Europeans to higher energy prices and do nothing to fight climate change and its consequences on hunger worldwide, Europe must take a sustainable path.

The 85 richest people own the same wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest people. But this economic inequality is by no means inevitable and solutions are out there for European leaders to pursue, including the fight against tax evasion and tax avoidance. The Italian Presidency can deliver concrete results in this fight for tax justice, such as concluding the review of the anti-money laundering directive and shedding light on who really benefits from shady tax arrangements, as well as concluding talks on the FTT by the end of the year.

The Italian Presidency can provide vision, continuity and momentum to the EU so that the new appointments at the top can hit the ground running. Those selected to lead the EU into this coming year will be confronted with global challenges that affect us all. Fortunately, change is as achievable as it is urgent, and solutions exist if we are willing to embrace them.

Food & drink industry must heat up EU debate on climate change

by Lies Craeynest, Oxfam’s EU climate expert

It is a well-known fact that one of the industries most vulnerable to climate change is the food industry. Their long global supply chains – sourcing mainly from developing countries – as well as their dependency on agriculture make them particularly exposed to the impacts of extreme weather and changing weather patterns. It is with a heavy dose of irony therefore that the world’s top ten largest food companies combined greenhouse gas emissions would make them the world’s twenty-fifth most polluting country. This comes at a time when rising temperatures and unpredictable weather are set to see agricultural yields decrease two per cent each decade whilst demand for food will rise fourteen per cent every ten years, pushing up to fifty million more people into hunger by 2050.

The revelations made by Oxfam’s new report, Standing on the Sidelines, should send a clear message to the “Big 10”; excess emissions is not just bad for the planet, but bad for business too. All ten companies must therefore make clear stances in favor of quick, effective climate action. Beyond cutting their own emissions, they should also stand up for better climate policies, as Unilever is in the process of doing, by dissociating itself from business groups, such as BUSINESSEUROPE, which aim to slow down progress on climate action.

The food and drink industry must also send a strong message to the EU that they support a strong target in the EU2030 Package on Energy & Climate Change. This must include at minimum a 55% reduction in emissions from 1990 levels and ambitious targets on renewable energy and energy efficiency as well as a reduction in Europe’s reliance on ‘old’ industries such as oil and gas.

Made up of household names including Coca-Cola, Kellogg and Mars, these global companies must do more to access the reality of the situation: by faltering on their responsibilities to the planet, they are entering a self-defeating, unsustainable cycle. The “Big 10” together emit 263.7 million tons of GHGs – more than Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway together. Around half of these emissions come from the production of agricultural materials from their supply chains, but these emissions are not covered by the reduction targets the companies have set, even though they constitute the majority of the gases they emit.

This lacklustre effort in tackling climate change comes as even more of a shock when several of the “Big 10” companies have admitted themselves that climate change is already beginning to harm them financially. Unilever has stated it now loses $415 million a year, while General Mills reported losing 62 days of production in the first fiscal quarter of 2014 due to extreme weather conditions widely attributed to climate change. Oxfam predicts that the price of key products like Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and General Mills’ Kix cereal could dramatically increase by 44% in the next 15 years because of climate change.

If all companies were to commit to reducing carbon emissions by 50% from business as usual, as PepsiCo UK recently announced, a significant reduction of 80 million tonnes in greenhouse gases could be achieved. Ambitious targets mixed with transparency and fully accessible data will help send a strong message not just to governments, but other industries deemed vulnerable to climate change.

Scorecards: then and now

February, 2013

February, 2014

European overseas aid slightly increases but lags behind global trend

By Natalia Alonso, Oxfam’s EU Head of Office

Bwalia 'Bottom' Hospital in Lilongwe by Abbie Trayler-Smith

The latest figures from the OECD seem promising but hide an uncomfortable truth. Donors have collectively increased their development aid spending, but most of Europe’s wealthiest governments still fail to meet promises designed to alleviate global poverty and slash economic inequality.

Overall, the EU-19 contribution to overseas aid has increased a little and some countries like the UK and Sweden have increased their contributions. However, a closer look at some of Europe’s wealthiest countries proves worrying. Key donors like France (-9.8%), Netherlands (-6.2%), Belgium (-6.1%) and Portugal (-20.4%) have slashed aid and spurned their own development pledges.

It is this slowdown by key countries which has led to Western Europe performing slightly worse than the global trend. The EU-19 delivered €51.3 billion or 0.42% of their national income as overseas aid in 2013, which reveals a €42 billion funding gap to meet their 0.7% target by 2015. This long-standing commitment lies at the heart of the UN flagship Millennium Development Goals (MDG) set to expire next year.

Slashing aid has a real human cost leading to fewer teachers and nurses in the world’s poorest countries. European aid saves lives every year and is irreplaceable.

The irreplaceable nature of aid is seen when we look at the European Commission’s aid spending in 2012. The budget totalled €13 billion, representing an important share of government revenue in poor countries including 23% in Sierra Leone, 22% in Comoros, 19% in Burundi, 18% in Malawi, 13% in Madagascar and 12% in Togo.

It is vital that European countries continue to support robust aid projects, refusing to replace it with alternative methods of finance with the developing world. Unlike aid, other sources of development finance like foreign direct investment or loans are not designed to get people out of poverty. Aid is designated to help poor countries raise their own resources for basic services like health and education by helping strengthen their tax systems.

Against the backdrop of broken aid promises by some of the Europe’s richest countries, innovative ways to raise money for development are absolutely crucial. The 11 EU countries who agreed to implement a financial transaction tax (FTT) this year must spend part of the revenues to help fight poverty and climate change. Europe can also crackdown on tax dodging which drains $950 billion out of poor countries every year.

Oxfam's EU Advocacy office in Brussels rss

Oxfam's EU Advocacy office in Brussels works to ensure EU policies and practices affecting poor countries have a greater impact on those most in need. Our work spans numerous policy areas including development aid, food security, climate change, and the provision of humanitarian assistance to victims of conflicts and natural disasters. more.

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