Rich EU consumers 'outsource' environmental impact to poorer neighbors
A recent study initiated by Greenpeace reveals that wealthy EU countries saw a positive GDP impact, while "outsourcing" environmental impact to places providing consumer goods.
Consumption patterns in rich European Union states are having detrimental environmental effects on poorer EU countries, a study published Thursday in Nature Sustainability revealed, exposing damaging inequalities on the continent.
The study, which was initiated by Greenpeace to examine the impact of the EU's Green Deal climate plan, looked at 10 key environmental impacts, including greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, land use, and toxins in water and soil, in supply chain nations and stacked them up against GDP levels in EU countries.
The detrimental impacts went beyond Europe -- Brazil, China, India, and Japan were included -- but the most remarkable findings were on the continent.
"There are huge inequalities between the EU, and that was the surprising thing," said Klaus Hubacek from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, the study's co-author.
Poorer nations within the EU were affected, in addition to non-EU countries like Montenegro, Serbia, Albania, Moldova, and Ukraine, said the study.
"Eastern Europe consistently ranked as the region receiving the lowest share of economic value added compared to environmental pressures and impacts associated with EU consumption," the press release said.
According to Hubacek, the researchers studied a "giant matrix" of data from 1995 to 2019, focusing on the GDP growth related to the consumption of food, clothing, manufactured products, and services, compared to environmental impact.
The study revealed that richer European countries saw a positive GDP impact, while "outsourcing" environmental impact to places providing consumer goods.
The impacts "increased notably outside the EU, while decreasing within the bloc," the study said.
'Winners and losers'
Some of the environmental effects come down to lax environmental regulations in poorer nations or depending on older technologies and tools that could be damaging or more polluting -- some of which would not be allowed in EU countries.
The impact was also seen within the EU.
For instance, agricultural producers in Greece and Spain saw disproportionate detrimental effects on water, land use, and biodiversity compared to the economic benefits from producing goods largely exported beyond their borders.
"It's a fascinating part of the picture that we have rich and poor, and winners and losers, within countries and regions," Hubacek told AFP.
He said consumers could change consumption patterns, such as eating less inexpensive meat from countries with lax environmental laws but urged the EU at the same time to introduce tougher import rules.
One solution could be imposing a border tax adjustment in a way that goods from countries where environmental impact is higher would face higher import tariffs.
"It's improving the efficiency along the entire supply chain, meaning we have to improve the environmental problems here, as well as abroad," Hubacek said from the Netherlands.
"We can't just focus on our own little backyard, but also see what damage we do elsewhere."