Guilty as Charged

    Anger and disappointment are running high in Brussels this week after the humiliating failure to pass critical pieces of the ‘Fit for 55’ climate legislation puzzle through the parliament. Lamentably, the reform of the EU’s carbon market, as well as introducing a carbon border tax and establishing a Social Climate Fund, will have to wait.

    I am, however, still determined to keep my new year’s sustainable positivity resolution, so I refuse to succumb to moping and zoom in on some good news coming out of the European corridors of power instead. This week, the parliament and EU Member States reached a swift1 political agreement on the proposal for a standard charging solution for our oh so indispensable gadgets. Buckle up, folks! As of 2024, all new mobile phones, tablets, digital cameras, video game consoles, headphones, headsets, portable speakers, e-readers, keyboards, mice, portable navigation systems, and earbuds will all have to be equipped with a USB-C charging port. And by 2026, laptops will follow suit.

    “No more bundles of different chargers in our drawers,” exclaims an ostensibly relieved Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for a Europe fit for the Digital Age. Well, the new standard promises to bring about more benefits than just fulfilling the Vice-President’s Marie Kondo dreams. Collectively, we Europeans spend about EUR 2.4 billion annually on standalone chargers (according to last year’s estimate).

    Apart from making it cheaper and more convenient for consumers, there is also the enormous amount of e-waste to consider. I, for one, feel guilty as charged for contributing my fair share to the mind-boggling pile (11,000 tonnes!) of chargers disposed of annually. And if you have trouble comprehending the statistics, just close your eyes and imagine your personal collection of cords and cables accumulated throughout the years. I bet some of them are still stuffed in those ‘good-to-have’ boxes in your basement. Something neither Ms Kondo nor Dr Jung would approve of, by the way.

    Just because the new law seems like a veritable win-win, beneficial to both consumers and the environment, it doesn’t make it immune to criticism. Even if you disregard the predictable corporate whining from the likes of Apple, there are still those opposing the legislation on principle. Observing the development from their Brexit pedestal, Brits are, of course, happy to comment. “We should be wary of cheering this kind of initiative, which rather typifies the difference between the EU and the American way of doing things,” writes Ross Clark in the Spectator. “The problem with over-legislating for standards is that it stifles innovation and leads to ossification of technology in our lives. The EU may be more consumer-friendly in many respects than the US, but it has to ask itself: why are all the tech giants American?”

    Rather than letting the sceptics poison my mind and spoil my mood, I look for solace in the words of Thierry Breton, the EU Commissioner in charge of the Internal Market. Defending the new legislation, he says, “it will allow new technologies such as wireless charging to emerge and mature without letting innovation become a source of market fragmentation and consumer inconvenience.” Let us hope he is right.

    “A common charger is common sense,” concludes the witty Commissioner.

    1. Well, swift in the EU context, anyway. For a long time, the European Commission defended a voluntary agreement it made with the device industry that was set in place in 2009 and saw a big reduction in cables. The new proposal that has just been agreed upon is less than nine months old.

    Image courtesy of Steve Johnson 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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