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IP/06/178

Brussels, 16 February 2006

Environment: Commissioner Dimas sets out 2006 priorities building on momentum of landmark year 2005

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas today set out his broad priorities for this year as the European Commission published its annual Environment Policy Review (EPR) for 2005. The Review underlines that last year EU and global climate change policy made a major advance and that the foundations of the next generation of EU environment policy were laid through the first four in a series of Thematic Strategies. The new policies show that protecting the environment and boosting economic growth can go hand in hand. Over the course of 2006 Commissioner Dimas intends to build on this progress with a series of further climate change initiatives and continued action to simultaneously protect the environment and stimulate economic growth through technological innovation and better regulation. Preserving biological diversity will also be a major focus this year, and efforts to ensure Member States implement EU environment laws properly and on time will be stepped up.

Commissioner Dimas commented: "I am determined to maintain the strong momentum created in 2005, which was a landmark year for climate change with the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol exactly a year ago, the take-off of EU emissions trading and the launch of global talks on future action. It was also a breakthrough year for a new wave of environmental policies that will bring both environmental and economic gains. While building on these achievements, this year we must also increase efforts to tackle the deterioration of ecosystems, as shown by the continuing decline in biological diversity, which threatens to undermine the very basis on which our economies depend. I am glad that we have the tool of EPR, which allows us to take stock and adjust priorities."

This year’s priorities

Climate change: Having pushed strongly for their early start, the EU will be a pro-active and constructive contributor to the international talks on future global action to combat climate change that were agreed on at the world climate conference in Montreal last December. The first meeting will take place in May. Domestically, the Commission will present an action plan to improve energy efficiency. It will review the functioning of the EU greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme, a key tool for achieving the Kyoto Protocol emissions targets, and propose any changes deemed necessary. It will also present a legislative proposal to include aircraft emissions in the scheme. A major task for the Commission in the second half of the year will be to check and approve Member States’ plans for allocating emission allowances to companies for the scheme’s 2008-2012 trading period.

The second phase of the European Climate Change Programme (ECCP), launched last autumn to identify further cost-effective ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, will start yielding results this year that are likely to lead to future EU-wide measures.

The Commission will also issue a Green Paper on adaptation to climate change, including recommendations of cost-effective practice in developing adaptation policies.

Biodiversity: Preserving biological diversity - the variety of genes, species and ecosystems that together form the web of life – is, like climate change, a pressing global challenge. The Commission will issue an ambitious roadmap for achieving the EU goal of halting the loss of biodiversity in Europe by 2010. Action-based solutions for safeguarding biodiversity will also be the focus of the Commission’s annual environmental conference programme, Green Week, in late May and early June. The Natura 2000 network of conservation sites will be completed for the EU-25 and extended to the marine environment.

Eco-innovation and better regulation:

Promoting environmental technologies and eco-innovation, the objective of the Environmental Technologies Action Plan (ETAP) launched in 2004, directly contributes to the objectives of the EU Strategy on Jobs and Growth (Lisbon Strategy). Implementation of ETAP will advance further this year through a range of actions. The Commission will report on Member States’ National Roadmaps for ETAP to the informal Environment Council to be held in May. A European panel on environmental technologies will be launched to help mobilise key players, increase public visibility and define the next steps for action under ETAP. Work will also progress this year on defining details of the new Competitiveness and Innovation Programme (CIP) for 2007-2013. Environment policy will continue to play its part in the drive for Better Regulation, not least through the two Thematic Strategies on the environment due to be presented within the next few months, on soil protection and sustainable use of pesticides. Simplifying legislation where possible will remain a key part of wider policy reviews, for instance on industrial emissions.

Implementation:

Timely transposition and proper implementation of EU environment legislation can pose difficulties for Member States, leading to a less than optimal level of environmental protection. Through close cooperation with Member States, the Commission intends to reinforce its efforts to help them address such problems in good time, while reserving the right to continue using its infringement powers where necessary. It will also present a compliance assistance programme to help small and medium-sized enterprises overcome implementation difficulties.

2005 a ‘tipping point’

The Environment Policy Review highlights the most important policies launched last year, such as the emissions trading scheme and four Thematic Strategies on the environment, tackling issues as complex as air pollution and waste management. The Review documents new evidence of increasing environmental pressures, particularly in the fields of climate change and biodiversity loss. It also looks to the future. As a new feature, the Review includes an overview of Member States’ plans for accelerating economic growth through environment policy.

The Review identifies 2005 as a ‘tipping point’ in the evolution of EU environment policy:

  • Climate change policy leapt forward. The EU played an important part in the agreement reached among more than 180 nations at the Montreal conference to start discussing future action against climate change. The 157 Kyoto Parties among them decided to strengthen the mechanisms of the Kyoto Protocol following its entry into force on 16 February 2005, and to begin immediate discussions of new targets. The EU Emissions Trading Scheme kicked off, with more than 260 million allowances, worth around €5 billion, traded in 2005, demonstrating the usefulness and cost-effectiveness of market-based instruments. The Commission also launched the new phase of the ECCP.
  • A new approach to policymaking matured with the launch of four 'thematic' strategies tackling air pollution, the marine environment, waste management and natural resources. These showcases of 'Better Regulation' have been developed over several years, are based on best knowledge and state-of-the-art science, and set short and medium-term policy objectives, to be achieved through action across a range of policy areas and streamlined existing legislation. In January, a fifth strategy, on the urban environment, was presented, and two more - on soil and pesticides - will follow later this year.
  • The renewal of the Lisbon Strategy highlighted the role of environment in economic growth. In particular eco-innovation has the potential to increase competitiveness and create jobs while protecting the environment. The EU eco-industries account for about one third of the global market, employ over 2 million people, and are growing at 5% per year. Eco-innovation is identified by both Member States in their National Reform Programmes (see IP/06/71) and the Commission as a clear way to boost international trade, efficiency and environmental standards. The Commission's proposal for the revision of the EU Sustainable Development Strategy (2001) clarifies that the growth the EU is pursuing must go along with social inclusion and environmental protection.

New evidence

2005 witnessed increasing environmental pressures. The EPR documents some key trends.

  • Europe witnessed climate-related disasters ranging from floods to droughts and forest fires in Europe. NASA data shows that 2005 was the hottest year ever recorded.
  • The UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment shows that many ecosystems services essential to our economic prosperity are being degraded or used unsustainably.
  • Air pollution currently reduces the life expectancy of Europeans by an average of nine months, but by up to two years in areas with the worst air quality.
  • The European Environment Agency's 'State of the Environment Report' found that many European species remain threatened – for instance 42% of native mammals, 15% of birds, 45% of butterflies and 52% of freshwater fish.
  • Europe’s Ecological Footprint - the area that is required to produce the food and fibre we consume, absorb the CO2 we emit, and provide space for our infrastructure - is 4.9 global hectares per person, but the limit on Earth’s resources means that only 1.8 hectares are available for each person.

The EPR and further information can be found at:

http://ec.europa.eu/environment/lisbon.htm


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