Theater of Cruelty

"Our existence depends on changing our growth and consumption habits"

THE WOMAN OF CHANGE / MODERN TIMES is talking to experienced Sandrine Dixson-Declève this time about sustainable growth and green development. She is now the leader of the European Commission's Expert Group for Research and Innovation.


French-Belgian Sandrine Dixson-Declève (54) has thirty years of experience in European and international politics, business management and strategy. It is difficult to give her one professional title; she is an activist, special adviser, expert and politician – and is interested in topics such as EU, climate changes, green growth and sustainable development, energy and finance.

Dixson-Declève is recognized by Greenbiz as one of the thirty most influential women in the world driving changes in the low-carbon economy. In the political environment, she is known as a "leading European opinion leader", according to European expert Paal Frisvold. "Thanks for that title, though I've never really considered it myself – I just do what I feel is right and fit my vision of sustainability development, ”she says in our Brussels meeting.

My life motto is to make sure that we have influence as human beings, that we do what is right within the confines of the planet's boundaries.

She defines herself as a change agent: “My life motto is to make sure that we have influence as human beings, that we do the right thing within the boundaries of the planet's borders and live synchronously with which and each other. I think you have to be the leader you want to see, and I wish we had more leaders who wanted to break boundaries. ”

The family emigrated from Brussels to California when she was three years old. The hippie movement and the daunting climate movement shaped her to a great extent, but it was in the first organic grocery store in California she received an ecological awakening: “When I saw the labels indicating food producers were made socially and environmentally responsible, I became aware of how we can have a positive and sustainable impact on the planet by changing our consumption habits. It became my first real education in the subjects I would continue to care about for the rest of my life. ”

Green growth and financing

Five years ago, she helped create The Green Growth Platform together with the climate and environment ministers of the British and Swedish governments respectively. The purpose of the platform is to discuss green growth. Dixson-Declève is still engaged, and Norway is also actively involved. Dixson-Declève is also a member of the European Commission's Technical Expert Group on Sustainable Finance and also heads the manufacturing sector for sustainability.
- How can we make the economy green?

"Right now I'm trying to influence The European Investment Bank (EIB) to withdraw from fossil investments by 2020. We must stop new investments in gas and oil infrastructure now, because that is where the highest emissions are.

Norway must reduce its fossil energy recovery access. But of course it is difficult, since the Norwegian economic model relies on oil and gas, which has enabled the country to maintain the welfare state. The positive is that Norway invests in renewable energy, so that the economic center of gravity is transferred from oil and gas.

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We must stop subsidies of fossil energy access. Fossil energy is way too cheap! Moving 17 percent of global subsidies from the oil and gas sector would amount to more than € 500 billion in revenue. The money can go towards renewable energy and energy efficiency, which will have a tremendous positive impact on society. We need to stop infrastructure investments in gas and oil access, because it will be impossible to change later. That being said: I am proud of the EU's efforts to look directly at the need for capital and switch to low carbon technologies. We are moving in the right direction with an agreement from the EIB to move investment from fossil fuels Energy solutions from next year.

We are discussing the establishment of a taxonomy that will define which investments are green in order to create a capital market that encourages the financing of economic activities that contribute to decarbonisation.

Christine Lagarde, the new president of the EIB, has indicated that she wants to put the climate at the heart of her new budget review. This is huge! This means that we, both the individual Member State and the EU at an overall level, are finally putting in place the mechanisms for green funding, ”says Dixson-Declève.

Progressive legislation

In her many years of commitment to the environment, she has come a long way. After completing her master's degree, she worked with engineering and environmental companies to clean up contaminated soils to see what systems needed in place, both in Belgium and in the rest of Europe: to look at how we can clean up fuel. The experience gave me a first-hand indication of how the cooperation between European politics, production, refining of fuel and automakers worked. ”

She became special advisor to Heidi Hautala, current Finnish Vice President of EU Parliament (and the next woman in this interview series), working on fuel legislation: “It was an incredible experience. Europe introduced progressive legislation for the first time! We lowered the sulfur level from 500 ppm to 50 ppm, and finally to 10 ppm, and also banned the use of lead. You can see this at all gas stations throughout Europe.
We changed the fuels and improved the air quality. Lead poisoning and nerve damage for children and adults who lived near a lot of areas transportation og forurensning, was very prevalent before we addressed the problem. After that I was hired as a fuel and air quality expert in the Organization of Oil Exporting Countries (OPEC), including Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Vietnam, which taught me that by setting standards here in Europe, the rest of the world follows after."


Global think tank

Dixson-Declève was elected co-president in 2018 with Dr. Mamphela Ramphele in The Club of Rome, a global think tank made up of current and former UN bureaucrats, politicians, scientists and economists, among others. They are the first female presidents of the think tank, and Dixson-Declève is the youngest president ever: “Here we discuss the fifty-year-old intellectual understanding of The Limits To Growth, new economic, political and financial models, change financing, funding changes and how we are facing the changes can 'emerge from the emergency'. "

We must stop subsidies of fossil energy now. Fossil energy is far too cheap.

The Club of Rome released its Climate Emergency Plan in the fall of 2018, at the same time as the first climate demonstrations with Greta Thunberg in the lead took place: panic. In our Climate Emergency Plan we present ten core actions å come out of the emergency we are in, something we have a decade to do.

First and foremost, we must stop extracting and using fossil energy, but we must also take steps to ensure that resource use is no longer carbon-intensive and does not affect biodiversity. We must create renewable agriculture, stop massive deforestation and drilling in the Arctic, protect the North and South Poles and prevent the ice from melting.

We need to convey the message that we are in an emergency, but if we act now, we can have a stronger and greater impact, ”says Dixson-Declève.

I ask why we have come to the point where it is now or never:

"Me and many others who have worked with climate and sustainability for the last thirty years, and those who are part of the Club of Rome for the last fifty years, have always talked about hitting a wall unless we act bigger caution. The problem was that we were told that we were doomed prophets, that we were wrong, that people could continue to consume within the framework of a fossil energy economy without it being a problem, that we would find other solutions, and that we were just panicking.

The Limits to Growth already in 1972 predicted the tipping points of climate and ecosystems and the existential crisis facing humanity. The biggest problem today is that man has put himself at the center of the universe; something we are not! The universe is the center; we are just a very small part of it. Our present role in the universe has led to such destruction that it will strike us back. With the lack of leadership and action by some prominent leaders and governments in important countries, such as the US and Brazil, we must find other ways to move forward, otherwise we will never meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. Although we already have over 1000 climate crisis statements around the world, this is too few, and we must now turn those statements into something concrete. ”

Green Deal

About President Ursula von der Leyen's European Green Deal, Dixson-Dècleve says: “I think it is very promising. Hope that Leyen has done several things that have really impressed me. The first is the inclusion of political rivals in the presidency, which shows that she wants to work across different parties, including the fact that Vice President Frans Timmermans has been given responsibility for the Green Deal. Since Timmermans has always been committed to strengthening social rights, this could have strong social implications.

This is the first gender-balanced presidency that will integrate sustainability thinking across Commission departments. Von der Leyen's commission will have a different government structure, where power is assigned to a number of vice presidents. I am ready to support her and her commission to ensure that we have an ambitious Green Deal that will make Europe competitive, secure the economy, jobs and protect our natural boundaries.

I believe in the future of Europe. The European policy of the welfare system is to give equal rights to everyone and not just to the elite, as in the United States. Respect for the people must be translated into respect for the planet. I am very excited that Europe is taking climate change seriously. There are very few deniers here in our part of the world. Now European leaders must show how the people can contribute. This can be the most exciting time in Europe's history. We can restore the economy completely, build new jobs and at the same time protect our planet, ”says Dixson-Dècleve.

She is worried about the future of Europe if the people do not join:

“The future is green. We need to get everyone on board by providing compelling information that being green is part of the economic bottom line.

The latest UN Special Report on Climate Change and Country (IPCC 1.5ºC) confirms that we are facing the biggest existential crisis ever. Our existence depends on changing our growth and consumption habits and the way we view the world. We need to create non-polluting and functional transport corridors between agricultural and urban communities and get rid of the over-consumption that makes people physically and mentally ill. The is the message we must convey to the people, ”concludes Dixson-Dècleve.

  1. The Limits to Growth (1972) written by Donella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, Jørgen Randers and William W. Behrens, is a report on data simulation of exponential economic growth and population growth with limited access to resources.
Pinar Ciftci
Pinar Ciftci
Ciftci is a journalist and actor.

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