Don’t mention the E-word. Or the H-word.

Indian ecologist Sunita Narain on international environmental agreements

May 27, 2013  As the 21st anniversary of the Earth Summit 1992 in Rio de Janeiro approaches, one cannot help looking back at the progress made so far. Or not made. Equally so, Indian climate change negotiations veteran Sunita Narain started her opening address at the MO* debate on international environmental negotiations by taking stock of the past 21 years. A road which has not been easy, to say the least.


Sunita Narain, Indian ecologist © Lisa Develtere for MO* (

The sun was finally shining weakly after yet another week of grim ‘Spring weather’, but still 75 people chose the — it must be said, comfortable — seats of the KBC-tower over one of the terraces on the Groenplaats in Antwerpen on this early Friday evening. Their centre of attention was with the short Indian woman on stage who, belying her small stature, threw them immediately into the deep in a clear and strong voice: “In these 21 years since 1992, our governments have not kept their promise to the people that climate change would be taken seriously.”

The tone was set, and Ms Narain continued by explaining the reasons why climate change negotiations at the international level have been moving so slowly — if moving at all. Climate change, she said, is the issue which brings most clearly to the table the interconnectedness of our world. Not only does a Canadian ton of CO2 not stay above Canadian territory but does it pollute the atmosphere globally, but a ton emitted by Canada means there is less space for Chinese or Venezuelan emissions.

Right to emit

This was exactly the plan back in 1992: developed countries were to make space in the atmosphere for others to develop by reducing their emissions, while supporting the developing countries to grow their economies in a different, cleaner way. A generously optimistic plan, said Ms Narain, hatched during the Age of Innocence: “There are now more claimants for the atmosphere, and there have been no drastic emission reductions to vacate space for the developing countries.”

Needless to say then that so far we have failed to achieve this objective: global emissions have risen by almost 60% over 1990 levels and the Green Climate Fund is still penniless. Meanwhile in the negotiation rooms of the yearly COPs, politicians are unable to decide who is responsible for what emissions, and in what way to allocate the 565 Gigatons of CO2 we have left — if we are at least serious about staying below a temperature rise of 2°C.

This is where the E-word and the H-word come in, two highly contentious concepts in international talks. “The US don’t want to talk about equity,” said Ms Narain, “and they threaten to leave the room every time historic emissions are mentioned.” And yet, deciding on this question is not just the cherry on the cake, she added —  it is the cake. Do we allocate the remaining emission rights on an equal per capita basis, do we also factor in past emissions and thus use a cumulative approach, or do we lock-in present emission patterns and require proportionate reductions across the board?

Pulling up a graph of these cumulative CO2 emissions from 1850-2005 quickly shows why the US would be so hell-bent on avoiding this as a basis for negotiations: while China overtook them as the single largest emitter of CO2 in 2007, historically the US still remain far ahead with more cumulative emissions than Russia, China, and Germany combined. Just how much of a difference this historical perspective can make, is illustrated by the fact that tiny Belgium (10.4 Gt) still outruns emerging giant Brazil (8.8 Gt).

Responsibility to reduce

Another problem with emissions is their territoriality. Territorial emissions are those emitted by chimneys and exhausts in a given territory, say the UK. While these have gone down by 19% between 1990 and 2008, emissions calculated on the basis of consumption have gone up by 20% over the same period of time. The convenient thing is that most international reporting — including towards Kyoto commitments — is done on the basis of territorial emissions, allowing the UK to claim a significant reduction of emissions over the years.

The reason for this huge difference is the relocation of many heavy industries from Europe to countries like China, resulting in lower emissions back home while consumption is allowed to increase unchecked. The obvious problem with this is that global emissions are not addressed, but are even further increased by the need for transporting all these products back to Europe. Artur Runge-Metzger, chief climate negotiator for the EU and one of the respondents to Ms Narain’s opening speech: “In Brussels we would be delighted to deal with those emissions related to our consumption as well.”

So then why don’t they? Dr Runge-Metzger continued: “But just look at the turmoil it gave when we did just this for aviation emissions.” We tried and people didn’t like it. End of story. On the other hand the EU are also taking these relocated emissions into account when calculating the reductions already achieved. Would it then not be much fairer not to count these as EU reductions — as they are simply being emitted somewhere else — but to take additional measures in Europe to achieve real reductions?

Keep the oil in the soil

One such possible measure is to “keep the oil in the soil and the coal in the hole” and instead unambiguously choose the card of renewables, as Leida Rijnhout of The Northern Alliance for Sustainability (ANPED) put forward in her question towards the end of the debate. For Wendel Trio, the second respondent and director at Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, the carbon bubble is too difficult to solve at the international level, and should instead be tackled at the local level, driven by citizens.

As an example he mentioned the Beyond Coal campaign in the US, where so far almost 150 coal-fired power plants have been shut down. Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, the country’s biggest environmental group and initiator of the campaign: “While Congress is paralysed by partisan bickering, our grassroots, people-powered campaign is succeeding city-by-city and state-by-state.” Also in Germany, coal plants are being closed down or cancelled, in spite of rumours of a “renaissance of coal,” said Mr Trio. With “Cleaner air for all” being the topic of this year’s European Green Week, nothing could be more fitting.

Ms Narain got the last word and, closing the circle back to her first words of the evening, with a reference to consumption-based emissions, she concluded in her straightforward style: “I’m seeing too much satisfaction from the EU, saying “we have done it, now you do it.” But the EU hasn’t done it!” Time to start doing it!

Find another article on this lecture at (in Dutch).

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When young people talk about sustainability

What do young people understand when talking about sustainability? Where did they learn about this? And how would they like their organisation to be involved with this topic? Finding out the answers to these questions was the aim of the survey on sustainability which was completed by almost 120 people from over 60 AEGEE locals all around the network. Both multiple choice and qualitative answers were analysed and quantified, and will serve as input for AEGEE’s position paper on sustainability.

Sustainability is…

… a buzzword/often misunderstood/a way of thinking/ a clear path for action/ all of the above. One thing is clear: ask 120 people about their understanding of sustainability and you will get 120 different answers. This can however only enrich the debate, as a concept as complex as sustainability can only be understood and operationalised by looking at it from multiple angles at the same time. So — at risk of generalisation — what do AEGEE members think of sustainability?

“Sustainability is the way of living, creating public policy and economic growth that takes into account environmental issues and will help to preserve natural resources for future generations.”

This explanation by a respondent from AEGEE-Poznań perhaps succeeds the best at capturing the wide range of ideas and definitions collected through the survey. For when analysed the answers fell broadly into a number of categories, of which the most important keywords are (in order of frequency): Future, Resources, Green, 3 elements, and Balance.

Graph 1

One in two respondents focus on long-term thinking and planning, preserving our planet and quality of life for future generations. This requires a different approach at resource usage and the introduction of closed-loop production and consumption systems. While many respondents mentioned the classical 3 components of sustainability — economy, society, and environment — and the balance between them, over 20% however, still see sustainability in a predominantly green light.

Education for sustainability

So even though 91% of respondents have at least some notions of sustainability, there is still some room for improvement. How much do AEGEE members — and youth in general — know about sustainability, and how much of this did they learn at school? It is true that the basics are being discussed in primary and secondary school — think water cycle and geography field trips —, but this “decreases as you pass to the next level of education, as the education becomes more specific and ‘serious’”, says a member of AEGEE-Valladolid.

Almost three in four respondents feel there is not enough attention for sustainability within formal education and 48% even estimate that sustainability-wise their time at school was a waste of time, with another third only learning a little about it.

Graph 2

On the other hand less than 25% believe they don’t know enough about the topic to do anything themselves. So where do people get their knowledge from then? This is where non-formal education (NFE) comes in, says Bogdan from AEGEE-Bucureşti: “I only found out about this from my AEGEE local.”

For one in three respondents, NFE is also a rather more suitable method for teaching sustainability than formal education. “Non-formal education is better in showing people ways to live more sustainable instead of simply telling them what to do”, says Wieke of AEGEE-Leuven, and Nolwen (AEGEE-Toulouse) continues: “Sustainability is about reforming our societies deeply and fundamentally, it therefore requires non-formal education, out of books, it requires to learn by doing, by discussing.”

Time for action

While playing a big role in teaching young people about sustainability, NGOs (28%) score significantly lower than e.g. national government (33%) when respondents are being asked to rank 6 stakeholders in order of importance to take initiative in making life more sustainable (weighted average 30%). It is therefore crucial to cooperate with all stakeholders in pursuing sustainability, including national and local government, business, youth and other NGOs, citizens’ initiatives, and individuals.

What role do respondents then see for organisations such as AEGEE?

Graph 3

Like many things, sustainability starts at home. For Guillermo of AEGEE-Barcelona, we should “first of all establish some obligatory criteria for all events. Secondly, create best practices which are easy to follow.” Only then, he says, should we start working on bigger projects. Again analysing the answers, we can see that respondents suggest a number of possible approaches.

More than one in five support Guillermo’s proposal for internal sustainability standards, while slightly more people would like to see Environmental Working Group and others to provide assistance to members and organisers to become more sustainable. Most respondents favour the raising of awareness and spreading of knowledge through workshops, but as this was not a multiple choice question, this serves mostly as a first step towards a more active engagement. Finally, remarkable are also the 15% who suggest raising our voice externally, by lobbying institutions for more sustainability or partnering with other youth organisations.

And now?

After defining the topic and conducting a survey to gather the first input, the next step is to launch an online consultation on the topic of sustainability — more in particular education for sustainability. This process will be informed by a lay of the land in Europe, and will define the basis for future lobbying for more attention for sustainability in both formal and non-formal education.

Picture writing

Image courtesy of jjpacres on Flickr

On sustainable entrepreneurship, the second subtopic proposed at Agora Budapest, not sufficient knowledge and outspoken opinions seem to be available within AEGEE at the moment. While we will continue with the topic and share useful opportunities, it might be too soon for AEGEE to take a position on this. Rather, more time and efforts should first be invested in raising people’s understanding of, and experience with entrepreneurship as such, e.g. through successful projects such as the European School on Entrepreneurship or collaborations with Startup Pirates and other specialised initiatives.

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What can young people do for Europe?

In response to “What can Europe do for young people?” by Bart Staes (Belgian MEP for Greens/EFA), published in Knack on May 9, 2013

“Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” This sentence from the inaugural speech of John F. Kennedy has been used so often and in so many situations, and yet it can hardly be called a cliché. Also in this context it still remains true and powerful: European young people are not yet lost.

The situation is dire. So much cannot be denied. Youth unemployment keeps rising month after month and is approaching the mark of 25% in the euro zone. But does this turn people away from Europe? Does the average young person know enough about Europe for this? And what future do young people see for the European Union in 2020?

These and other questions formed the content of the first edition of the Europe on Track project, winner of the European Charlemagne Youth Prize 2013, last week in Aachen. At a time when the European integration project is being questions and the outlooks for many young people look bleak at best, AEGEE/ European Students’ Forum has taken the initiative to question European youth on their vision of Europe and their role in it. As one of six travellers I covered over 7,500 km by train to interview 200 young people.

From Brussels to Istanbul many interviewed youth were indeed anxious about their current and future chances on the job market, both at home and abroad. Many don’t stand idly by however, and are further training themselves in youth organisations, on projects, or in non-formal education. Yet they are aware that even this is often not enough, for non-formal education is still insufficiently being recognised and it remains difficult for them to turn this invaluable experience into a meaningful job. The Youth Guarantee can play a role here, but can still be improved.

Moreover, for many the European integration project remains limited to politics and business, while on the ground many barriers remain before we can truly speak of a free movement of persons. Some examples include the difficult transfer from the French education to the German job market, the mutual incompatibility of the Dutch and Belgian residence rules, or the drastic consequences of the fast integration of the new member states.

Few however, have lost their faith in a better Europe. Among youth the interest for European politics is low and many indicate “not knowing what they are doing there in Brussels”, but this largely seems to be a reflection at the European level of the lack of interest in, or even aversion from national politics. Remains of communist regimes, insufficient attention for youth in political programmes, and a feeling of impotence to chance any of this, are the most commonly cited reasons for this disinterest.

But it is not yet too late. As European Parliament president Martin Schultz said last week: “The elections of 2014 will be crucial to regain the confidence.” Many elections and other events have already been called crucial and just as quickly have been replaced with other horizons, but we cannot afford to be discouraged by this. Each opportunity to turn the tide of Euroscepticism can be the decisive one. The European Students’ Forum is therefore industriously preparing the successor of its 2009 success project: Y Vote.

Many young people are more than ever concerned with the institutional discussions and the changes these could bring about. For many a stronger union is indispensable to get us out of this crisis and a federal Europe seems a done deal: it is integration or disintegration for this Erasmus-generation. Young people are most easily convinced by other young people, and it is therefore the task of these enthusiastic youths to engage others and pull them along. This is exactly the aim of Y Vote 2014 as well, by again heading to the UK with a campaign on Euroscepticism.

But they cannot do this alone. Regardless of the number of projects and campaigns to stimulate young people’s interest in European politics and integration, political programmes and discourses must also be adapted to offer them a point of recognition and to demonstrate that Europe has a tangible — and often positive — influence in their daily life. Too often politicians at the national level blame Brussels for unpopular measures, and media report only on the negative aspects of European integration.

Young people are shouting that we can no longer continue like this, and they are prepared to do something about this. The least European policy-makers could do, is to actively support and guide these young people. We will gladly cooperate with this!

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What can Europe do for young people?

By Bart Staes (Belgian MEP for Greens/EFA), translated by Mathieu Soete
Original publication: Knack, 09-05-2013

Almost a quarter of the European young people are unemployed. In Greece and Spain more than half of the young people are without a job and also our country is not far behind.

While we are busy saving the euro, we are losing the Europeans. Most of the European youth are definitely not anti-Europeans, but their discontent is growing each day. Anxious young people are not dreaming of institutional changes and a United States of Europe. What they want is for Europe to form a buffer against the incomprehensible power of the supermarkets, and not to be a mere neoliberal project of market and currency, propelled by mere technocrats, lobbyists, and big industry associations.

Tax evasion, tax havens, and the fight against fraud and mismanagement really must be tackled. Taxation on labour must be shifted to taxation on capital. Corporate tax must be harmonised at the European level and the European budget must be directed to where it is most needed.

Next to the current austerity measures, social and ecological measures must be put into place.

Several plans are on the drawing board and some, like the Youth Guarantee are in implementation mode. This scheme of a learning-working guarantee assures that within four months of leaving school, every young person will have a job, can follow further adapted training or will be actively guided. The 7.5 million young people in Europe today without a job or training can in this way regain some perspective.

In the reigning and very narrow-minded social and political discourse, also at the European level, everything is at the moment being expressed in economic terms. As if all the rest is without value. In this logic the numerous unemployed youth have no value, they only generate costs.

It must be changed!

We need recognition that things like time, natural wealth, and creativity also have an intrinsic value. To validate these can engender a much more inclusive society in which also oft-forgotten groups of people can partake. In such a system, young people can take their life and future into their own hands and no longer need to watch idly. It would make our society less dependent on ‘money’ and purely material wealth and financial institutions would lose their monopoly on the creation of value.

Utopian and unrealistic? Not at all. Numerous examples such as TimeDollars, LETS, CSA, and Toreks illustrate this. These alternatives even offer possible solutions to ageing populations and climate change. A general, open policy on this would best be regulated at the European level to avoid competition between member states and to give the project sufficient credibility towards the rest of the world.

Another aspect deals with the transition from large-scale to small-scale, but with a European approach. Power to the people. One of the characteristics of the current crisis is the paralysing feeling of impotence. Local communities and short supply chains constitute a more easily comprehensible level at which one can have an impact. Europe could then support and coordinate the local level. This coordination combines two of the biggest strengths of Europe at present: on the one hand the endless diversity of local circumstances and situations in the EU and on the other hand the current era of communications. Combine these two and you get a situation in which we, next to economic solidarity, also assure a ‘knowledge and social solidarity’ whereby the different communities within Europe can learn from each other. Projects like Erasmus have a strong and positive impact on this by creating a platform for solidarity at the grassroots level.

Young people are shouting that we can no longer continue like this, and they are prepared to do something about this. The least European policy-makers could do, is to actively support and guide these young people. I will gladly cooperate with this!

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Fighting Climate Change Starts At School

“The Ministry of Magic has always considered the education of young witches and wizards to be of a vital importance. Although each headmaster has brought something new to this… historic school, progress for the sake of progress must be discouraged. Let us preserve what must be preserved, perfect what can be perfected and prune practices that ought to be… prohibited!

With those words, Dolores Umbridge enters the life of Harry Potter at the start of his 5th year at Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft. A little speech aptly interpreted by Hermione Granger as “The Ministry is interfering at Hogwarts.” Played by Imelda Staunton, these days, Umbridge is being impersonated by UK Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove, or at least according to a post on the UK Youth Climate Coalition (UKYCC) blog, calling Mr. Gove the Climate Change High Inquisitor.

Seriously now, what’s happening?

After the much-talked-about introduction of climate change into formal education curricula across the UK in 2007 — including the Brown ministry being taken to court over the distribution of Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth — the current Cameron ministry, in the person of its Secretary of State for Education Mr. Gove, has decided to take it off again. The change means climate change as such will be scrapped in the so-called Key Stages 1 to 3, roughly corresponding to primary and the first half of secondary school, or everyone under the age of 14.

Are they just reconsidering a small bit of policy then?

According to a spokesperson of the Department of Education, there is no need for concern, as “all children will learn about climate change. It is specifically mentioned in the science curriculum and both climate and weather feature throughout the geography curriculum.” Rita Gardner, director of the Royal Geographical Society, on the other hand, welcomes the change, saying that “in the past, in some instances, young people were going to start on climate change without really knowing about climate” and she expects students to be better prepared by the time they start discussing climate change earnestly at the age of 14.

Various other stakeholders were quick to denounce the Ministry’s move though, and with reason. Arguments range from the desired content of climate education, over the responsibility towards future generations, to what the government’s former science advisor Prof Sir David King calls “a major political interference with the geography syllabus.”

One of the loudest protests against the decision comes from a secondary school student, Esha Marwaha, a member of the UK Youth Climate Coalition (UKYCC). Outraged by the move, Esha launched a petition which collected 25,000 signatures in less than two weeks, calling on Mr. Gove to “Keep Climate Change in the Curriculum.” A call supported by the results of a recent AEGEE survey on sustainability, where 73% of respondents asked for more attention for sustainability education.

attention for sustainability

Other opponents of the decision include John Ashton, former government climate change envoy, and Jim Hickman, author of “Will Jellyfish Rule the World”, a book about climate change aimed at 8 to 10-year-olds. Both disagree with Ms. Gardner’s claim that kids younger than 14 could not grasp the complexities of climate change. “We must never underestimate a child’s intelligence, or their capacity and eagerness to learn something new,” says Mr. Hickman, while Mr. Ashton also touches upon our responsibility towards the next generation: “We cannot let our children face such a journey without equipping them at the earliest possible stage with a compass.”

An approach which actually seems to work, and is being supported by climate campaigners and scientists who say teaching about climate change in schools has helped mobilise young people to be the most vociferous advocates of action by governments, business and society to tackle the issue. Coincidence then that the UK government is trying to eliminate climate education for young students?

Not according to Esha, who claims that “our government intend to not only fail to act on climate change themselves, but to obscure the truth, and any chance young people have to act.” Camilla Born, international expert at UKYCC shares her point of view: “It appears climate change is being systematically removed from the curriculum.” A frightening perspective, when at the same time in the US, the National Research Council is updating nationwide science standards to include climate change, building on the fact that “only one in five students feel they have a good handle on climate change from what they’ve learned  in school.”

Moreover, effective climate change education should include much more than just the scientific functioning of climate and weather. As Mr. Ashton puts it, “what’s important is not so much the chemistry as the impact on the lives of human beings.” This coincides with the findings of Rosalyn McKeown Ph.D. in her seminal Education for Sustainability toolkit, where she states that we need more than a theoretical discussion at this point, and that education therefore needs to be used “as a tool to achieve sustainability”.

CC Melinda Stelton

Finally, the Ministry defends its decision by pointing out that the change would not forbid the teaching of climate change — which, luckily, prevents this from being a perfect Umbridge parallel — but allows ‘sensible teachers’ to introduce it whenever they feel ready for it. Mr. Hickman draws a complete comparison between the current and proposed guidelines to prove this possibility, but not every teacher will read those guidelines with the same intent of adding climate change on his own initiative. As Mr. Ashton points out, the changes “would make it legitimate not to do so.”

In conclusion, the Ministry tries to justify removing climate change from the lower curricula by using a list of highly debatable arguments, which have been strongly opposed by both scientists and civil society:

1. Climate change is too complex to teach below 14 — Wrong, we cannot start educating early enough.
2. Teaching climate change is still allowed — Wrong, it will only be effective when clearly supported.
3. Climate change is still sufficiently mentioned — Wrong, this change will decrease kids’ readiness.

AEGEE-Europe/ European Students’ Forum strongly supports actions and campaigns for a wide-spread presence of education for sustainability at all stages of the education curriculum. This was reflected recently in the almost unanimous vote of AEGEE-locals in the Netherlands for the topic as focus for lobbying by the Dutch youth council (NJR), which was subsequently confirmed at the NJR’s general assembly.

In times of increasing attention for sustainability in all parts of social life, removing climate change from the curriculum is not only illogical but also counter-productive in the joint effort for more sustainable ways of living. As Esha puts it: “All the people who are passionate about this issue call for more climate education, not less. We should be taking a step forwards, not backwards.”

AEGEE-Europe therefore supports the petition by Esha and the UKYCC, and urges the British government to reverse its decision and keep climate change firmly rooted in the educational curriculum. In the end, we all have to fight climate change or face its effects, and education is key in providing us with the knowledge and tools for doing this. Ignoring this fact is not serving anyone.

Mathieu Soete is AEGEE-Europe’s Policy Officer on Sustainability, working on Education for sustainability and Sustainable entrepreneurship. This post was also published on the AEGEE-Europe blog.

UPDATE: On July 8, 2013 The Independent reported that climate change education is back on the menu!

“It has been reported that climate change is now set to feature explicitly in the geography curriculum, after a campaign raising concerns that it was not specifically referenced in the syllabus garnered widespread support.

Hailing the changes, Mr Cameron said: “We are determined to give all children in this country the very best education for their future and for our country’s future.”

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European Commission supports young entrepreneurs

AEGEE-Europe warmly welcomes the “Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan” published by the European Commission last month. As an organisation striving to provide young people with the necessary tools to take their future into their own hands, and concerned by the dangerously high levels of especially youth unemployment throughout the continent, AEGEE-Europe strongly supports the Commission’s aim of reigniting the entrepreneurial spirit in Europe.

When going through the Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan, one could almost say it has been written after consultation with the teams of the “Europe on Track” project and the hundreds of young Europeans they have involved in their research along the tracks of Europe. The Action Plan identifies many of the barriers which were also mentioned by youth—such as the image of entrepreneurship, heavy bureaucracy, and various financial constraints—and develops almost the same solutions, including investing heavily in entrepreneurship education, cutting red tape, and setting up business incubators.

While this was not the case, it is reassuring to see that the Commission has taken young people’s environment into account, and has managed to represent many of their personal concerns. This will undoubtedly help in providing young people with properly adapted tools and support, empowering them to see and take business creation as a route out of unemployment. For this, AEGEE-Europe whole-heartedly agrees with the Commission that “investing in entrepreneurship education is one of the highest return investments Europe can make.”

One particularly interesting realisation by the Commission in this respect, is the fact that “practical entrepreneurial experiences can also be gained outside education.” Indeed, many young people will for the first time come into contact with aspects of entrepreneurship through non-formal education, by taking part in a training course, competing in a business plan challenge, or volunteering in an NGO. Also during “Europe on Track”, youth have repeatedly spoken in favour of active participation in civil society—including students organisations—as a means to gain valuable experience and skills such as creativity, book-keeping, and project management. AEGEE-Europe therefore offers its support to the Commission in its commitment to promote the recognition and validation of entrepreneurial learning—and by extension all learning—outside the formal education system.

Unfortunately, this apparent understanding of the particular employment environment of young people is at times insufficiently translated into youth-specific measures and support mechanisms. While encouraging the specific attention for such vulnerable groups as women, seniors, or migrants, AEGEE-Europe regrets that youth do not receive equal recognition in the Action Plan, but are addressed together with unemployed people from all ages. In various fields the Commission could have gone further in supporting this particularly hard-hit part of society, by inviting Member States to implement tax breaks or easily accessible starting capital loans for young entrepreneurs, continue to offer practical entrepreneurial experiences also to tertiary education students, and actively involve young people in the concrete realisation and implementation of the proposed measures.

Finally, it is ironic that, while claiming that the potential of social entrepreneurs is “often underestimated”, the European Commission at the same time seems to underestimate the importance of social entrepreneurship in the European economy of the future. The Action Plan rightly states that social entrepreneurs are more resilient to the crisis and generate sustainable jobs, thereby contributing to the EU2020 objectives, but falls short in converting this realisation into structural support for sustainable start-ups. Also, results from “Europe on Track” show that, at least among young Europeans, social entrepreneurship has a better image, providing a means for changing the perception of entrepreneurs by stressing their value to society and the environment.

Nonetheless, set on its three legs of developing entrepreneurial education and training, creating the right business environment, and nurturing the new generation of entrepreneurs, the European Commission’s “Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan” offers a solid stool to those wanting to launch themselves into self-employment. Take a seat!

Mathieu Soete is AEGEE-Europe’s Policy Officer on Sustainability, working on Education for sustainability and Sustainable entrepreneurship. This post was also published on the AEGEE-Europe blog.

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Umicore is “world’s most sustainable company”

DAVOS—Reason for celebration during the World Economic Forum for the Belgian clean-tech and recycling company Umicore, as they have been ranked as the world’s most sustainable company in the Global 100. Umicore CEO Marc Grynberg: “This recognition shows that we are on the right track.”

Since 2005, Canadian media and investment research company Corporate Knights has been putting together the Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World index. This list, published during the annual high-mass of corporate capitalism in Davos, includes companies from 22 countries, with a total sales number of over $3 trillion, and employing 5 million people. Compared to previous editions, the share of European companies continues to increase, to a total of 56 this year, reflecting the efforts made in this field by the EU and countries like Norway and Switzerland.

Corporate Knights uses the results of its Global 100 index to explore sustainable investment strategies. Behind these results lies a two-step methodology. Over 4,000 companies worth more than $2 billion are first sifted down to a shortlist of 400, based on their general sustainability performance and financial health. In a second step, these are further graded along 12 Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), including energy and water productivity, innovation capacity, CEO-to-employee pay ratio, percentage tax paid and leadership diversity.

This Global 100 clearly goes beyond purely environmental concerns, though not everybody is so positive about the exercise. According to Raz Godelnik, co-founder of Eco-Libris, the main issue with the index is that it does not give any objective bench-mark. Godelnik: “It is like providing you with the results of a 100-meter race without telling you what the 100-meter world record is—how can you tell whether the runners did well or not?” So in fact, it does not tell us much about the current state of sustainability in global business.

Top-5 Global 100 2013

The fact, however, that two-thirds of companies on this year’s list also featured in the ranking of 2012, shows that the companies are committed to continue their sustainability efforts. Umicore, last year’s #8, precedes Brazilian beauty products manufacturer Natura Cosmeticos and Norwegian energy company Statoil, also the numbers 2 and 3 in 2012. In the words of CEO Grynberg: “Being recognised as the most sustainable company is foremost an encouragement to continue to grow our business in a sustainable way.”

So we hope that these 100 companies—more than half of them based in Europe—will continue to be “models for the art of the possible”, and show the way toward ever-more sustainable business practice. Of course, the entire Global 100 list only accounts for about 4.5% of global GDP. But it also has its value for the other 95.5%, especially in the development of the KPIs, and the possibility of measuring a company’s or organisation’s performance against them. Meanwhile, we congratulate Umicore’s management team and employees with their achievement, and wish them a successful year ahead!

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