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Europe's invaders push the green button

Richard Black | 12:25 UK time, Tuesday, 28 April 2009

jo_blogs picks me up on my last post on European fisheries for neglecting to mention the wider impacts of EU fishing fleets, notably on Africa.

As he says, EU waters aren't the world's only oceans; and if European governments and ship owners are plundering the riches of Africa's coast and setting up dodgy deals with states ill-equipped to resist, as has happened in the past, that might negate any progressive policies being pursued at home.

While I think you're correct to make the point (and congratulations on a perfect nom-de-plume for the blogosphere, by the way), I'll put a more positive twist on it.

Fishing village in GhanaEurope has a habit of exporting its environmental and social policies to places where its nationals operate, and from where it sources imports.

The flower trade is an obvious example, with European buyers paying premiums for blooms that have been grown in Africa or South America in accordance with European ecological and social standards (leave the carbon burnt in getting them here aside for a moment...)

The EU's planned curbs on shark-finning, unveiled in February, will apply to all EU-registered vessels wherever they operate.

There are times when the approach doesn't work so well, and where developing countries complain that having to meet European standards presents real obstacles to development.

The most obvious example is climate change.

If Europe wanted, for example, to mandate emissions caps on cement manufacturers, would those caps be applied to companies exporting cement into the EU? Doing so might hinder the economic development of poorer countries; but not doing so might mean that the measure does not actually reduce emissions.

Nevertheless, I would argue that the net result of setting and then exporting standards is an environmental positive.

The European Commission's green paper on reforming the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) asks this rhetorical question: "The core objective of the CFP is to promote responsible and sustainable fisheries. Is there any reason why the external dimension of the CFP should be driven by different objectives?"

The commission's own answer, clearly, is "no"; but as it acknowledges, the previous CFP reform in 2002 also sought to promote sustainable fishing in the waters of developing countries, but partially failed.

We shall see if the current attempt - slated for completion in 2013 - fares any better.

American bullfrogThis isn't "big up Europe" week for the Earth Watch blog; but something else that caught my eye in recent days was the publication of a pan-continental assessment of the economic costs of invasive species (in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, in case you're interested).

According to the Delivering Alien Invasive Species In Europe (DAISIE) project, there are more than 10,000 non-native species in Europe - but we only have detailed information on the impacts of about one-tenth of them.

The pooled cost of invasive arthropods - the class of creatures that includes spiders, insects and crustaceans - adds up to 3bn euros per year, the team calculates, mainly through munching on valuable crops and woodlands.

The water hyacinth, a fast-growing native of South America, costs an estimated 3.4m euros annually - small beer by comparison.

Interestingly, the DAISIE researchers reckon we know more about the economic impacts of invasive species in Europe than about the ecological impacts.

RaccoonIt would be good to think that here, too, are processes and methodologies that could greatly benefit Africa.

Water hyacinth creates habitat for mosquitoes that carry the malaria parasite and for the snails that incubate schistosomes. Malaria and schistosomiasis are said to be the two most devastating parasitic diseases in the world, so clearly there's a third dimension to invasive species impacts - human disease.

In certain quarters, environmental progress in rich western countries is sometimes vilified as a decadent, guilt-laden luxury akin to champagne socialism, which is irrelevant (and usually detrimental) to the real needs of developing countries.

I would argue that the opposite is overwhelmingly true. Whether it's water that's free of disease-bearing organisms, agricultural fields where damaging insects are kept at bay of fisheries sectors tooled up for sustainability, western environmental progress can be hugely beneficial when it's exported.

The trick is to do it in a way that's timely, appropriate and flexible. Sometimes it has worked, sometimes it hasn't; but if you spend a few moments formulating a world where it isn't exported at all, I think you will visualise a poorer place.


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  • 1. At 8:27pm on 28 Apr 2009, michellegrand wrote:

    Knowing the economic costs - yes, hardly a surprise there! The people who make the decisions rarely have to live with the consequences.

    Poor countries peoples, I would suggest, do not like living next to polluting industries any more than we do. Do Nigerians care for oil spills in the Niger delta? I would think not. Why do they have such low standards? We in the UK had very low standards when the UK industrialised. Remember the smogs, the thames dead of fish, ignore the slag heaps and backs to backs if you will, but we, like china is now, ran industries with minimal thought for the people who worked there and lived by them.

    The poor countries want to be richer. They want what we have. They all know it exists now, and are not content to stay poor. The more daring of them try to get to our countries and get a share of the wealth. We have to decide whether we intend to share, and if so, at an equal level, or with the poor still worse off than us, or if we won't share, in which case I posit that we will have to use force at some point. It's not as simple as setting up a modern factory in a country. The factory needs spare parts (rarely an important part of aid), needs honest managers, all the way up to the top. (we NEVER have people running companies fleecing money for themselves in the UK), and needs a leader who won't stash the money in some tax haven (quite possibly a western controlled one).

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  • 2. At 10:26pm on 28 Apr 2009, rossglory wrote:

    I think it is important to export sustainability to developing countries. In reality much of the developing world is growing economically at the expense of most of its population who are being expoited, poisoned and having their environment degraded.

    The knock on effect is that we will have to pay more for the produce we import but that, imo is a good thing as it will help to prevent future economic imbalances that have contributed to the recent global catastrophes (economic and now health).

    The more 'western' standards that can be exported the better off, in the long run, everyone will be and the only losers will be those that have exploited the disparity in standards and salaries to make themselves rich.

    How any of this will happen I don't know but if it does happens I'm sure the EU with its experience of pan-national policy making (the only real pan-national model we have) will have had a big hand in it.

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  • 3. At 10:37pm on 28 Apr 2009, greenNautilus wrote:

    I'm all for exporting good practice but lets dig a little deeper. The easiest way to escape regulations is to reflag a fishing vessel with a flag of convenience, usually negotiated at a small price, sometimes from an island state that needs the extra income. There are hundreds of vessels of this kind engaged in unregulated fishing but sometimes with European owners. The only way to stop this is to have better accountability of fish from the net to the shop but this is hard to achieve in a society where fish is caught in Europe, sent to China just to be gutted and cleaned and then brought back to Europe for sale. Remember the ship that was chased half way round the Southern Ocean a couple of years ago by various navies, arrested and taken to Uruguay and then released because there was no legal system or appropriate evidence for prosecution? Admittedly, the European Commission is trying to introduce tougher rules to control this problem but it will be difficult to achieve while it remains hungry for cheap fish.

    And while we are on the subject, the technology we export may not always be the most appropriate one for the developing country recipient. Fast inshore launches with outboard engines may look really helpful to those who see fisherfolk in fragile wooden boats but they have the potential to destroy traditional controls on overfishing including rights of access held for generations. And having failed with our own practices, we are trying to develop our own rights-based management regimes back home.

    Let's be a little more circumspect when raising the banner of how well we are doing things. After all, it is our global trade that is causing ballast water to be shipped vast distances around the planet and introducing species where they are not wanted. It is our lack of concern for how things are manufactured or disposed of (other than in our backyard) that helps to pollute China or create horrendous waste disposal sites on the coast of India.

    If we really want to export good practice, we need to look at the world a different way and examine our own footprint very carefully. If we can sort that out, we can proudly offer support to others to do the same. And yes, we owe them some help with the mess we have already created but as partners and not in a patronising manner.

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  • 4. At 1:10pm on 29 Apr 2009, Asterionella wrote:

    Maybe I'm "off thread" but 2 things came to my mind:
    - the overxploitation by EU fisheries of West African fishing grounds, and the non renewal of these licences, opened the way for Japanese "fishing experts" to those countries and their "indoctrination" of several countries (which then, oh surprise, joined IWC ...)
    - in Switzerland a report has been written on the possibility to forbid the import of furs, being completely legal under GATT, if seen as "attack to public moral and decency" of the country. In the sense that Swiss law has articles asking for respect of the animal, protection from cruelty, and Swiss people apparently fervently against cruelty to animals, Even if Swiss market surely is not that important for the fur-industry, it is thought that this might function as "signal" ... it's just a possibility, but this would go in the sense of "exporting" ecological and social standards, even INSIDE Europe ....
    just some thougths!

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