Interview with Dr Janez Potočnik
The world is out of social, economic and environmental balance
Ljubljana, 15 April (STA)
Financial capital is overvalued, labour is undervalued and natural capital is mostly given no value, which leads to a world that is out of social, economic and environmental balance, former European Commissioner Janez Potočnik told the STA in an interview focused on circular economy.
According to Potočnik, who chairs the consultative committee of the platform Circular Change, the first steps towards a circular economy are being made and the key stakeholders are giving their declarative support, but it is time to turn words into actions.
To achieve a circular economy the private and public sector need to work hand in hand, he said, explaining that the role of the public sector was particularly important for giving the signal that rational and efficient use of resources is also economically attractive.
While the economy can move things to a certain degree, the public sector must contribute to moving things in the right direction by giving the right signals. Potočnik thus believes governments must engage in the process of introducing a circular economy through their economic policies – from how business results are measured to tax policies, subsidies, public procurement, orientation of investments, a reform of the financial sector and changing consumers’ habits.
Moreover, people need to be motivated to understand that a transition to a circular economy is good for them and can bring a plethora of benefits that are not limited to the economy but also include social aspects. “We are starting to understand that we can basically live just as well, if not even better, if we follow the concept of meeting our own needs and not the concept of possessing all the goods that are forced on us by the world around us in one way or another,” he stressed. Turning to the environmental policies of US President Donald Trump, Potočnik said that although they “surely won’t contribute to faster change” they cannot stop positive change.
While environmental awareness in the US reflected in policies on the federal level is much lower than in Europe, Potočnik is optimistic because of the agility of the business sector in some parts of the US. The US has thus brought numerous ideas related to the concept of sharing economy and more environment-friendly mobility, like electric cars where ideas did not come from automotive giants but rather from people who had previously had nothing to do with the automotive industry. Nevertheless, the US will need to undergo greater change than Europe, where awareness is somewhat greater already because the relative scarcity of resources compared to the US has forced people to be more rational.
Potočnik also stressed that the world has committed to sustainability goals, which he sees as a “message that we understand that the way we’ve worked in the past will no longer do”. This calls for a change of the economic system, production and consumption, which is also how the world’s key problems should be addressed, he said, arguing that “even the core of the issues related to migrations and security lies here”. According to Potočnik, what is being addressed are all to often consequences and not the reasons. “If the reasons are not resolved, the problems – including migration and security issues – will stay right here,” he stressed.
edited by Martina Gojkošek