European Commissioner for the Environment
"Putting People and Planet first:
EU leadership for a social and green strategy post 2010"
High Level Conferenc e
European Economic and Social Committee
Brussels, 28 September 2009
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to start by congratulating the Spring Alliance for their excellent initiative.
One of the most important roles of civil society is developing the new ideas that can help guide politicians and policymakers. To move beyond business as usual we will need a new vision that is translated into new policies. And the Manifesto provides a wealth of ideas that have the potential to shape the future.
Given the scale of the problems that the planet is facing the level of ambition you have set yourselves is - by necessity - high. And the scope of the Manifesto is broad. Since time is limited, I will focus my introductory remarks on the environmental chapters of the Manifesto.
It is worth noting that the way environmental issues are considered is very different than it was five years ago. When I took up the position of Environment Commissioner we were being given lectures by "Skeptical Environmentalists". There was a real fear that better regulation could lead to the lowering of environmental standards. Protecting the environment was seen by many as an obstacle to Europe's prosperity.
These arguments were quite simply wrong. A health environment is the foundation of our prosperity and of our quality of life – and over the last five years there has been a 180 0 shift in thinking. Ministers of industry have realized the potential of "green-growth". Business giants are basing their corporate strategies on "eco-imagination". Social partners are working together to create high-quality "green-collar" jobs.
The recent financial crisis has underlined the need for a new economic model. And it is clear that this new model should also address other pressing global challenges: climate change, ever scarcer resources, continued global poverty, and continued inequality.
Most urgently, Europe needs to make the shift to a low-input, low-carbon economy. In addition to the obvious environmental benefits there are many economic advantages:
First, Europe can take the lead in the fast-growing markets for environmental technologies, services and products.
Second, a resource efficient economy will be ab le to better compete in a world with ever-higher resource prices.
Third, the EU's payments for our own energy consumption would decrease.
And fourthly, we would increase the security of our energy supply.
The shift to a low-input, low-carbon economy is inevitable at some stage. The successful economies will be those that recognise this first, and adapt to the new reality most quickly. It is therefore quite right that the design of a new economy is recognised as the first point of the Manifesto.
I am convinced that the successor to the Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs needs a vision of an eco-efficient economy at its centre. The framework of the current Lisbon Strategy may not be perfect, but it has helped to drive structural reform, innovation, productivity and efficiency improvements. The foundations laid by the Lisbon Strategy should be developed to create an eco-efficient economy [and a more socially inclusive economy]. We do not need to re-invent the mechanics of the process. But we do need to redefine our vision of where we are going and why.
The emphasis in the Manifesto on better regulation is also welcome and far-sighted. We have moved beyond the days when better regulation was used as a code-word for deregulation.
Agricultural, fisheries, transport and trade policies all have major impacts on the quality of our environment and our societies. We need to look to use the tools of better regulation to make sure that these impacts are fully taken into account when designing legislative proposals. An additional benefit is that better designed legislation will not only have lower compliance costs but will also be easier to implement and to enforce.
The Climate and Energy package was one of the most important achievements of the current Commission and it will certainly be at the top of the agenda of the next Commission. I look forward to an international agreement in Copenhagen that will allow Europe to confirm its target of a 30% reduction by 2020. This is what science tells us is necessary and under such a scenario new European measures would be necessary to deliver the required emission cuts. The Manifesto lays out a number of very interesting options.
Equally importantly, the Manifesto underlines that resource efficiency is not simply a question of energy efficiency. We need to have the same level of ambition we have taken with greenhouse gasses when it comes to our policies on water, land and other natural resources.
Nature is probably the most precious resource that we have and it is one that is far too often taken for granted. Biodiversity loss is problem of global importance. It is a problem that has major social impacts - particularly on the poor who depend on eco-systems for their livelihoods. The Manifesto is quite correct when it concludes that we need a biodiversity rescue plan. I look forward to 2010 – the international year of biodiversity – being the year when nature is moved to the top of Europe's policy agenda.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In the past, our policies have tended to focus on solving particular problems – such as the environmental consequences of a given pollutant. Our future policy needs to have a wider and more ambitious vision. It needs to point the way forward for society as a whole. It needs a framing vision, such as Green Growth, that can drive the rest on the policy agenda forward.
I am very pleased to see that both this vision – but also many of the concrete actions that will help translate this vision into realty – are reflected in the Manifesto.
My congratulations to all involved in producing the Manifesto and I wish you a very stimulating discussion over the rest of the day.