Today I watched, along with millions of others across the globe, the Noble Peace Prize being awarded to the European Union for its contribution to the "advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe."

While the EU deserves recognition for its pursuit of peace in the difficult aftermath of the Second World War, it is also time to reflect on whether the 'peaceful system' that the EU has since put in place comes at a price. Has the EU done enough to promote peace and long-term security?

Although technically the EU has little say on defence, it is noteworthy that three out of the five biggest arms exporting countries in the world are prominent EU member states. Weapons manufactured in France, Germany and the UK are used in conflicts across the globe. The EU also spends an estimated $300 billion a year on weapons and soldiers (more than Russia and China combined, but still less than the United States).

But in any case, long-term security means much more than the absence of war.

In 2007, the Nobel Peace Prize committee acknowledged the enormity of the threat posed by climate change to the "security of mankind" and awarded the prize to the UN's Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change and Al Gore. The committee called for immediate action on climate change, before it "moves beyond man's control."

It may be an 'inconvenient truth', but climate change poses the greatest security threat of our times, the greatest challenge to peace and prosperity. It increases pressure on our most basic resources: food, water, energy and land. These pressures are already triggering conflicts and suffering. This will only get worse unless urgent measures are taken to tackle the root causes.

The EU was probably the first to recognise that environmental dangers transcend national borders. While far from perfect, pan-European laws have helped set higher environmental standards and spurred less polluting production methods. But the EU can no longer rest on the laurels of past accomplishments.

At this year's global climate talks in Doha, the EU failed to drive up the ambition to tackle climate change. This is not surprising, given that the EU is itself guilty of low ambition: its target to cut carbon emissions by 2020 is so low that it has already reached it, eight years ahead of schedule.

The EU remains one of the world's most carbon polluting regions (second only to China and the USA), largely due to its continuing reliance on coal. Some governments in Europe are taking positive steps forward, refraining from constructing new plants, moving to renewable energy instead. But others remain behind. Poland, one of the newest member states, is still over 90% dependent on coal and resistant to change.

The EU has been slow to accept that peace and prosperity are closely linked to environmental protection. As the world's biggest economy, almost all the EU's policies have increasingly widespread environmental, social and economic impacts beyond its borders. It now costs Europeans one billion euros every day to import oil and other fossil fuels damaging to the climate from places like the Middle East, where oil continues to fuel conflict. Chronically overfished European seas and irresponsible fisheries management mean the EU fishing fleet is now plundering the waters off the coast of West Africa and other developing countries, with dire consequences for local communities [5]. The demand for cheap designer clothes on Europe's high streets is polluting rivers in China (and the EU) with toxic chemicals... There are plenty of examples of Europe's growing footprint on the rest of the world and the implications for global peace and prosperity.

The Nobel Peace prize should spur the EU to turn things around and become a leading example of a new type of prosperity that does not come at a cost to the environment and the world's poor. Support for renewable energy and energy efficiency could free Europe from the reliance on fossil fuel imports and create green jobs. Sensible fisheries management could encourage sustainable fishing in Europe and end the depletion of resources abroad. Tough policies on dangerous chemicals would help keep us healthy and keep our environment clean.

In recent years, the Noble Peace Prize Committee has chosen laureates not only for their past deeds, but on the basis of their future potential to promote transformational change. Unless the EU can play a truly transformative role on the environmental stage, within and beyond its borders, its accomplishments over the last half century will be denied to future generations.


Jen Maman - Greenpeace peace adviser