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When competitiveness meets sustainability, synergy thrives

There is no stopping change. Once momentum gains, you either ride the wave or else risk being left behind.

I have always seen change as an opportunity to grow. To deliver. To give our citizens what they truly deserve. I also see the industry facing an opportunity – an opportunity to benefit from a new economic model.

For decades there was knowledge of the harm to the environment, climate change and global warming. Reports upon reports were presented, consolidated by studies, showed the harmful impact on the environment. Not only.

Scientific studies confirmed negative health impacts and links to diseases and illnesses. Yet, polluting processes always got the upper hand and bad practices ploughed on.

It was an economic model that failed to realise how sustainability was a motor of innovation, not a clog in economic growth.

We have reached a point of where doing nothing is simply out of the question. I was recently presented with a report of the Network of Mediterranean Experts on Climate and Environmental Change. 85 scientists from 20 countries contributed to this study.

They found that increase in frequency, intensity and duration of heat waves imply significant health risks for vulnerable populations, especially in cities. Increasing frequency in droughts since the 1950s played a significant role in the current Mediterranean crisis.

With the Paris Agreement, signatories agreed to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise  during this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

They also gave their word to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. But if we retain the current policies, there will be an increase of 2.2 degrees Celsius by 2040. The Mediterranean region is already warming 20% faster than the global average.

Sea level rises may exceed one metre by 2100, impacting one third of the region’s population. Half of the 20 global cities set to suffer most from sea level rises by 2050 are in the Mediterranean.

No more hesitation. We have the opportunity to transition to a modern, climate-neutral, highly resource-efficient and competitive industrial base in the EU by 2050.

At the time of writing, we are still awaiting the European Commission’s industrial strategy. We have to see industrial competitiveness and climate policy as mutually reinforcing. We can create local jobs and ensure the competitiveness of the European economy if the EU adopts an innovative and climate-neutral reindustrialisation mind-set.

As agreed in the European Parliament a few weeks ago, we need a new industrial strategy that focuses on incentivising value chains for economically viable and sustainable products, processes and business models aimed at achieving climate neutrality, resource efficiency, circularity and a non-toxic environment, while maintaining and developing international competitiveness.

As Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, we have insisted that particular attention is to be paid to the most disadvantaged regions. ‘Leaving no one behind’ is about ensuring that the weakest and the most vulnerable in society are supported.

Where workers are assisted in their adaptation to new jobs through training, re-skilling and upskilling and where upcoming generations are prepared for today’s and tomorrow’s jobs.

Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) have an important role to play – but there has to be a comprehensive set of incentives and funding opportunities for innovation, for the deployment of breakthrough technologies and for new sustainable business models. Unnecessary regulatory hurdles must be removed.

In talks I have with stakeholders, I can confidently say that the will to act is there. It is agreed that economic growth should deliver prosperity and equity. This will require a push and support.

Sustainable development is about the integration of environmental, social and economic concerns into all aspects of decision-making.

It is a paradigm shift towards a new economic model that is socially inclusive and ecologically sustainable.

The rapid technological advancements will help us meet these goals.  We have to think outside the box and this will help us address social solidarity.

At the end of the day, we are aiming for improved synergies that will give our societies a better living through different aspects: be it workers’ rights, better wages, equality, improved health conditions and surroundings.

This is the time for the European Union to prove that it means business. We need a coherent and ambitious roadmap that sets the agenda for the next years. It must be about stronger policy measures, better implementation and monitoring, and investments at a higher scale.

For this to happen, we need to have a European Climate Law with legal bindings goals for reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050; tackle pollutant emissions from ships in ports and planes in airports; commit to an effective Just Transition as an overarching political principle ensuring ecological and social progress go together.

This is a new era: ‘sustainability’ is no longer a word that scares investors away. It attracts innovators. The tools are there. The ambition is there. It’s the decision makers that must rally behind it.