Being a garbage police is not easy in Catalonia

I am the garbage police at home. Everything has to be separated based on what bin it goes into and I can even pick up what others throw in the wrong waste bin. It’s easy to be the garbage police where I live in Gävle with an advanced waste management system in every part of the municipality.

It’s so good that it has been awarded a lot of prices, both nationally and internationally, and the services of our municipal waste management system are asked for in other countries. During the years I’ve brought a lot of foreign visitors: El Salvador, Dominican Republic, South Africa, Mozambique, Canary Islands, Chile, Guatemala, Colombia, Rwanda, Catalonia etc. Most of them politicians. And all of them are impressed.

It’s not by chance we have this form of waste management. It was a clear political prioritization between having our municipal energy company build a waste incinerator, or developing a way for sustainable recycling. It took many years of political discussions before the waste separation was in place.

According to SDG #12 by 2030 we should substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse. We are really on the right way in Gävle but it’s not enough. We can do even better. We’re generally good at recycling in Sweden compared to many other EU member states even though we are ruled by the same legislation.

I’m now spending my holiday in Catalonia but it’s impossible to recycle the same way I can do at home since the awereness of environmental issues amongst citizens is low. All kind of packaging is thrown in the same container and it’s normally just a mess where you will find anything from electro domestics to organic waste.

SDG #12 also state we should support developing countries to strengthen their scientific and technological capacity to move towards more sustainable patterns of consumption and production. The issue about waste is a common challenge for all of us. For rich and poor countries. The more developed the more waste, but we handle it different based on awereness and political will. Thanks to political decision we normally don’t burn rubber wheels any longer in the EU as it is forbidden. Still we continue to live in societies with unsustainable consumption patterns generating much more consumer-products than we need and using much more natural resources than sustainable and necessary. People continue to think about waste as something just to throw away and not something that could be turned into a new product.

So how can we support developing countries when we don’t live up to our own legislation at home? The SDG:s are also about us. We should not forget that. In Europe we have to rethink and use existing legislation to diminish our waste and follow the waste hierarchy. It’s far too easy to break the rules without being sanctioned. We also need to develop the legislation further to collect all kind of materials as such. Why should we not recycle an old plastic chair when we recycle the plastic bottle. And we should support developing countries not only with technology but also with environmental legislation in combination with economic incentives to prevent, reduce, reuse and recycle. We can do that by sheding a light on good local examples. There is no one-size-fits-all. It depends on the size of the municipality, and what kind of industry, agriculture, etc. The Gävle model could suit a lot of municipalities but not all. One kind of good cooperation is that between municipalities but the resources are too limited to make any real change. I would like to see more of that in our cooperation policy.

/Bodil Valero 

Member of the European Parliament for the Swedish Greens (Miljöpartiet de gröna)

Nauru – A place bound by its past, haunted by its present and threatened by its future

Recently the tiny island of Nauru came into the spotlight through the Nauru files*, detailing the abuse of asylum seekers in the Australian immigration facilitation camp located on the island. It is an event that might seem to have little to do with development and climate change, but in fact, it has everything to with it.

Nauru bares the scars of its history, with incredible damages to its ecosystem and large parts of the island both unsuitable for cultivation as well as habitation. It has also found that it’s economic future has been inextricably linked with the old colonial master that once created the platform for the destruction of the Island, Australia.

Nauru, a protectorate of Australia between 1923 and 1966 was once on the richest islands in the Pacific. It is now also a prime example of the problematic relationship between unsustainable resource extractions by old colonial administrations; and how they in turn have created economic dependencies that make countries complicit in illegal practices that are sprung from repressive migration regimes.

The phosphate deposits found on Nauru catapulted Nauru into one of the richest countries per capita in the world. But, the mining, managed by Australia until 1967 and later by Nauru, depleted the islands resources with massive environmental damages. Its main sources of income now are the selling of fishing rights, offshore banking and aid from Australia, and it is here that the Nauru detention centre enters into the picture.

Nauru’s dependency on the economic gains of the detention facility makes it dependent on Australia continuing its gate-keeping practices when it comes to migrants. Before the temporary closure of the detention facility in 2007, it accounted for 20% of Nauru’s GDP, with Nauru officials voicing concerns of an economic crisis ensuing after its closure.

At the same time Nauru is part of the Alliance of Small Island States comprised of 44 members and very active in the fight against climate change. Nauru is well aware what a future awaits if the climate goals are not met (yet still, if they are met, the future of Nauru is in danger) and has long advocated a harder and more active stance to climate change.

Due to the mineral extraction, large parts of the island lack original forests, a small and flat island, making it more vulnerable to storms that are likely to increase due to climate change. The mineral extraction has also worsened costal erosion and the islands coral reef has experienced a diminishing production, the increasing ocean acidification will further this development, making the island even more vulnerable to the storms previously mentioned. This combined with the fact that it is a country a few metres above sea level, and sea levels expected to increase, the future is grim. The perils of the future is not lost on the Nauru leadership, meanwhile, its present is dependent on an ever-worsening world.

It is a depressing irony and bizarre example of the paradox of the international system that with the guaranteed increase of climate refugees in a region that will be hit extremely hard by climate change; Nauru’s economic future stands with this increase. At the same time, Nauru stands to be one of the countries hit hardest by climate change, setting it’s population up to become climate refugees themselves, the only question is which island they will be housed on, waiting for asylum.

/Daniel Silberstein

PhD International Relations, Stockholm University, Stockholm Graduate School of International Studies


Money, tax and welfare

The recent Brexit leave campaign with its bright red bus swooshing by on the telly stirred up a lot of questions regarding resource allocation in my head. Happily proclaiming that money normally spent on the EU should be redistributed to the UK national health service (NHS) (1), the bus positioned not only the national versus the European and the global, but also how public funds are used, as well as the value of our common services. Moreover, it came with a narrative that placed institutions and people outside the national border as destructive to the British economy and welfare.

Coincidentally, zapping onto a Swedish TV show (Korrespondenterna) a couple of days later the same theme of allocating public money was discussed, however this time from a different perspective – that of tax evasion.

The European Commission estimates that around 1 trillion euros leaves the EU each year in unpaid taxes (2). An extortionate amount of money. Some illegally but also some through legal loopholes and tax planning meaning that large companies end up paying a fraction of what a firm not using loopholes would. This spring, European leaders agreed to address and cut down on these loopholes. The EU also sanctioned Ireland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands for allowing companies and individuals to escape taxes.

Improving public services does not mean keeping people from using them and closing borders. It means to fairly contribute to these services and thus clamping down on tax evasion is one such thing. Referring back to my former blog post on doughnut economics, working against tax evasion to improve public services will help us move towards the social foundation of inclusive and sustainable economic development, and hence, inviting more people to take part in the services and prosperity in society.

/Anna Tranberg

Works with research and innovation at the Swedish governmental agency for innovation systems

Federation of Young European Greens COP21 delegate

(1) a promise that was withdrawn before most people had the time to boil the kettle the day after the referendum