Fast or Furious

    ‘Fast-track’ is not a word you would usually associate with bureaucrats and politicians. Rumours are circulating this week, however, that Herr Timmermans and his Green Deal friends in Brussels are seriously considering doing just that. Reporters at the Financial Times, who somehow got a sneak peek at a draft proposal to be officially revealed by the European Commission next week, claim that the EU is about to loosen its environmental regulations to speed up the switch to renewable energy and green hydrogen.

    “Lengthy and complex administrative procedures are a key barrier for investments in renewables and their related infrastructure,” according to the draft, as quoted by the FT. While admitting that the plans could “result in the occasional killing or disturbance of birds and other protected species,” the EU proposal allegedly advocates suspending the requirement for renewable projects in designated “go-to” areas to perform environmental impact studies prior to receiving the permits needed to proceed.

    Picking up the story, Forbes calls the move “a novel bit of policy logic”. The Yankees, of course, can hardly hide their schadenfreude upon witnessing the cracks in the EU’s sustainable leadership facade. “Now, with Europe in the midst of a very real energy crisis, suddenly these priorities don’t seem quite so important,” writes Forbes. “A proposal to suspend key environmental protection standards was perhaps the last thing anyone might have expected to see from the EU, but then, extraordinary times often require extraordinary measures.”

    No doubt environmental groups in Europe and beyond will be furious. They are probably already railing against the incoming proposal, ready to denounce the EU politicians for compromising the future of the very planet that they claim they are protecting. Expect a massive reaction as soon as the document is made available to a circle wider than the FT insiders.

    For my part, though, and without having read the actual proposal, I feel a surge of sympathy for poor politicians trying to prioritise a plethora of urgent and real problems that all scream to be solved. So many uncomfortable decisions to make and wills to consider! And, of course, partially suspending environmental protection measures to help the environment is bound to be a hard sell. Yet, I also understand their frustration with the suboptimal choices made by local politicians who have the power to obstruct the energy transition. The “Not in my backyard”-movement is still as potent as ever.

    My thoughts wander to sunny Svedberga. This solar park in the south of Sweden would be the largest one in the country to date, producing 170 gigawatt-hours annually. Just the other day, however, Skåne County Council rejected the proposal. “They want to place the solar plant on agricultural land, which creates a conflict between two important social interests, the production of renewable energy and food security,” comments Helena Holmgren (in Swedish), head of a unit at the County government. “We believe that food production is the most important issue here. Skåne has a major responsibility for the national food supply,” she explains the rationale behind the decision.

    I should add that this is the third application for the construction of photovoltaic systems to be rejected in Sweden only recently. The nay-decisions of Ängelholm and Kristianstad municipalities are already being appealed at the Higher Regional and Environmental Court. Undoubtedly, Danish company European Energy, which intends to build the solar farm in Svedberga, will also appeal the Council’s decision.

    Well, they might just get some unexpected help in fighting the local politicians from other politicians who claim to focus on the bigger picture.

    As always in Sustainability land, it’s complicated. Hard to know whether it’s best to be fast or furious.

    Image courtesy of Sammy Wong on Unsplash
    Julia Axelsson, CAIA
    Julia Axelsson, CAIA
    Julia has accumulated experience in asset management for more than 20 years in Stockholm and Beijing, in portfolio management, asset allocation, fund selection and risk management. In December 2020, she completed a program in Sustainability Studies at the University of Linköping. Julia speaks Mandarin, Bulgarian, Hindi, Russian, Swedish, Urdu and English. She holds a Master in Indology from Sofia University and has completed studies in Economics at both Stockholm University and Stockholm School of Economics.

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