A decent life for all. But how?

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Yesterday, the European Commission issued a new communication: A decent life for all: ending poverty and giving the world a sustainable future. It is encouraging to see how the EC embraces a concept that has been developed and promoted by countries like Brazil, Columbia, Guatemala, and many others: environmental and social sustainability require each other .  

It is nice to read the EC confirming that “these challenges are universal and inter-related and need to be addressed together by all countries.” (On page 2 of the communication.) It is nice to read that the EC is in favor of “a floor under which no man, woman or child should fall…”. (Page 9.)

But then comes the disappointment: when the ‘universal floor’ is composed of “standards by which every citizen should be able to hold her or his government to account.”  (Page 9.) Every citizen towards her or his government? What happened to “together by all countries”? What if some government are too poor?

This combined challenge can only be resolved if “together by all countries” is taken seriously. Let’s take environmental sustainability first: we know that ‘man-made’ carbon dioxide has reached an unprecedented level of 33 billion tons per year, and that this is too much for the planet too absorb – not sustainable. Let’s aim for a target of 25 billion tons, or 3.125 tons per person per year, if the world’s population reaches 8 billion people. Now the experts tell us, according to The Guardian, that a ton should cost €25-40, “to encourage companies to change their behavior.” So let’s agree that all countries should pay a ‘disincentive’ of €30 for every ton emitted in excess of 3.125 tons per person per year, and let’s put those disincentives in the Green Climate Fund that will be created, in accordance with an agreement reached in Cancun in 2010. According to our estimates Green Climate Fund this would result in a Green Climate Fund  of €464 billion per year.

If governments make polluters pay for the disincentive, it would almost certainly encourage major industries to change their behavior. But some of them will simply try to move to countries that are far from the 3.125 tons per person per year target. How do we encourage a country like Mozambique, for example, to keep polluting industries out? The carbon dioxide emissions of Mozambique stand at 0.1 ton person per year; this country can accommodate quite a few polluting industries that may be willing to pay a lot of taxes, as long as they have to pay less than €30 per ton of carbon dioxide emitted.

Can we expect countries like Mozambique to keep away carbon dioxide producing industries, if these industries are willing to pay taxes, allowing governments to support ‘a decent life for all’? No, we can’t. But we can offer these governments something better. We turn the Green Climate Fund Green Climate Fund  into a Green Social Fund of €464 billion per year, and countries like Mozambique would receive €90 per person per year – or €30 per ton below the 3.125 ton per person per year target – to spend on ‘a decent life for all’. This Green Social Fund could easily finance the Global Fund for Health we are proposing, and a Global Fund for Education, and a Global Fund for Food.

To the average inhabitant of Belgium, it would cost about €200 per person per year. That is less than the €300 per person per year it would cost us if we lived up to the promise we made half a century ago – to allocate the equivalent of 0.7% of our Gross Domestic Product to international assistance – so it would not cost more than what we already promised. It would be more effective than the erratic aid we are giving now, and it would allow as to address global warming. Columbus’ egg!