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Confronting Social and Environmental Sustainability with Economic Pressure: Balancing Trade-offs by Policy Dismantling?

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Sustainability vs. economy

The global economic crisis is putting a strain on environmental and social policies, but the extent to which the crisis is affecting these policies isn't always clear. A new study sheds light on policymaking in dire times.

Climate Change and Environment icon Climate Change and Environment

Social and environmental sustainability depends highly on economic stability and growth, presenting a tough challenge for policymakers who are forced to rethink their policies during difficult economic downturns. The EU has been a driver and model of social and environmental policies, yet the crisis has often required the dismantling of complex policies that have been built over time. Understanding this ebb and flow of policymaking to enhance sustainability and measuring policy dismantling used to ease economic pressures is crucial to the health of the EU and its citizens. In this context, the EU-funded project Consensus examined the validity of balancing trade-offs by dismantling policies. The project investigated the dynamics among the economic, environmental and social objectives of sustainable development. In particular, the project studied economic pressure caused by globalisation and domestic macroeconomic austerity in EU countries. It also looked closely at social and environmental policies, examining how they are expanding or contracting. From these elaborate studies, it developed a model for understanding policy change and demystifying the often overlooked concept of policy dismantling. A strong focus was placed on examining regulatory density (extent to which a certain policy area is covered by governmental activities) and regulatory stringency (intensity or strictness of adopted measures). Among the project's main findings, Consensus noted three possible international drivers for policy change: namely, regulatory competition, harmonisation and policy dissemination. It also highlighted three domestic drivers for policy change, these being macroeconomic austerity pressures, problem pressure, and domestic politics and institutions. The project's key achievements also included the development of indicators to measure aspects of policy change and guidance for the national policy experts in collecting relevant research data. Overall, the project found that social policy change is more balanced than that of environmental policy, with the latter being more resistant to dismantlement. It then underlined the importance of analysing policy expansion and policy dismantling jointly in order to better understand policy change. The project's insights and policy modelling will help governments capture the exact causes behind policy dismantlement and policy change. This will lead to the formulation of more effectivepolicies in the future that take economic factors into consideration. Lastly, this in-depth look at policymaking and policy dismantling could help safeguard against the unnecessary breaking down of social and environmental regulations at the first sign of a crisis.

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