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Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

Biodiversity – our lifeline

Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED

Opening session of the Green Week 2010

Brussels, 1 June 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to Brussels and welcome to another Green Week - my first one.

Let me start with a question. The title of this year's event describes biodiversity as a 'lifeline' – but what is a life line?

A life line is a helping hand. In this case, it needs to be a very strong helping hand. Biodiversity certainly needs one, but it is also our lifeline.

We are moving through a period of intense introspection – as a financial crisis lead to an economic crisis that has had immediate consequences for many people. Incomes - and sometimes homes - were lost, and a sense of confidence was replaced by a sense of powerlessness, as uncertainty crept in. But this should not blind us to the effects of a crisis that is less visible – for now – but even more dangerous in the long run. I am talking about the accelerating global loss of biodiversity. The financial crisis would not have been prevented if we had had one or two extra regulations in place. And equally our biodiversity will not be protected if we adopt another law or two.

The true response must be structural, carrying out a true shift of our economy into a sustainable one. A response that works across sectors and across borders.

The Commission has taken a first – big - step in this direction by proposing the EU2020 Strategy. EU2020 is meant to address the fallout from the economic meltdown over the last few years. But not only that, it is meant to help our passage out of the financial crisis into a new sustainable social market economy, a smarter, greener economy. It is supposed to be not just about jobs and growth, but also about the kind of jobs and the kind of growth we want.

It is driven by the desire to harness prosperity based on a knowledge based economy by using our diminishing resources better. Conserving energy, natural resources and raw materials, using them more efficiently and increasing productivity will be the crucial drivers of the future competitiveness of our economies.

But strategies are one thing. The policies which enable them are another. And to do what we want to do means using everything we have at our disposal. I'm talking about using the right mix of smart regulation, incentives and market-based mechanisms to foster eco-innovation, sustainable consumption and production.

These must and will underpin all our work. Exploiting the resource potential of waste streams, an action plan for eco-innovation, the Thematic Strategy on Natural Resources and the Waste Thematic Strategy will be part of the contribution from environment policy to improve resource efficiency. We have ambitious plans beyond this in years to come, and I am very happy that so many friends from the European and international communities involved in work on resource efficiency are here this week.

Our work on REACH will be an important part of these policies. What we aim for is a major shift away from the use of dangerous chemicals over the next decade. 'Greener and cleaner' is the mantra for this new generation who will increasingly recognise and reward innovation, while at the same time rejecting the unsustainable past. We are now at the stage where we can use the implementation of REACH to help us determine its effectiveness. And we will, of course, be working closely with our colleagues in both the Directorate-General for Enterprise and in the European Chemicals Agency in Helsinki.

Air quality legislation also needs to be used to improve health and benefit the environment. We need to investigate the underlying causes of implementation problems to make sure this happens. The adoption of the revised proposal on industrial emissions by Council and Parliament is important.

The preparation for revision of air quality legislation will continue. So will our work on a "Blueprint" for water; one of the areas where the challenges of the future are certainly not getting smaller.

Implementation will have to play an important role, so we need to look hard at ways to improve it.

We work closely with our colleagues dealing with climate change and adaptation, in Europe and internationally. The need to fight climate change and to make every effort to adapt to its consequences remains among the key environmental challenges of our time.

And working closely together is crucial. Increasingly, making progress using environment policy depends on measures in other areas such as transport, energy, cohesion policy, agriculture and many others. We must therefore make sure that we work closely together across different areas and so ensure that environmental objectives are mainstreamed into other Community policies and reflected in the preparation for future European financing. I have already been working closely and successfully with my Commission colleagues to this end and I intend to continue doing so.

We have to remain global too, just like our environmental challenges. A green economy and sustainable production and consumption patterns require action well beyond EU borders. We have our duties, but so do others. The EU is a global leader in developing environment policy and has an important role to play in improving international environmental governance, but we cannot do it alone. We need to work through multilateral environmental agreements and through close work with the emerging economies. We should take two important lessons from the recent meeting of the CITES convention. The first one is that the immense efforts we invest in forging a common European position will not always be rewarded with the desired outcome in the global arena. Often we will need more flexibility to negotiate in the future. The second lesson is that we should always insist on a sound science based knowledge base in our proposals. This is a key to our credibility and should become a key to our success.

Improving and refining our knowledge base through better information, better management of information systems and the development of appropriate indicators will generally help target environment policy as efficiently and as effectively as possible. As the entire world focuses on growing out of the crisis, it becomes even more important to measure growth and wellbeing in more dimensions than one. We will therefore continue our work to develop complementary indicators to GDP to measure societal welfare and progress more appropriately. Later today, together with Professor McGlade, the Director of the EEA, I will launch BISE, the Biodiversity Information System for Europe. This will gather data, information and knowledge on biodiversity, in order to enable the production of indicators and assessments, and in particular will give us a much better picture of our ecosystems and ecosystem services.

You may be wondering when I'm going to start talking about biodiversity…well I have been talking about it…because our policies on water, air, soil, chemicals and emissions all impact on biodiversity directly. And when we design strategies and policies to stimulate our economies and create jobs and innovation, we do so knowing that they must have biodiversity friendliness built into them from the word go.

Biodiversity is the reason we are here – and not just the reason we are here in Brussels this week – biodiversity is about life. The threats from biodiversity loss are becoming more real. And now, finally, we are getting a clearer picture about just how important it is to all of us.

You will hear about just how much we have to lose from the speakers who will follow, so I won't spoil their presentations by quoting from them.

But what I must say is that their work forces us to recognise the real value of ecosystems and really explore the link between biodiversity conservation and greenhouse gas mitigation.

The EU heads of states and governments adopted in March a new 2050 vision and 2020 headline target for biodiversity. The vision and target commit the EU to protecting, valuing and restoring biodiversity and its ecosystem services given their essential contribution to human well-being and economic prosperity. The post-2010 biodiversity strategy will be built around a set of sub-targets, focusing on key ecosystems, driving forces, pressures and responses. These sub-targets will include the integration and sustainable use of ecosystem services; overexploitation; fragmentation; invasive species; nature conservation; ecosystem-based approaches such as green infrastructure, and a sub-target for the EU's contribution to global biodiversity. New global targets will have to be agreed and a new action plan for biodiversity will have to be designed and negotiated on international level.

Further initiatives are also required to protect endangered species of fauna and flora and to address illegal logging and deforestation worldwide. In a world where resources are becoming increasingly scarce and there is increased competition for land use from transport, energy, food production and nature preservation, is also essential to achieve and maintain good soil quality. Adoption of the soil framework proposal would certainly support this goal.

Ladies and Gentlemen

Only a few days ago I saw yet another story in the press about 'the Sixth Great Extinction'. I wish these kinds of stories were extinct, but they appear too regularly to be disregarded. To put it bluntly; continuing failure to meet goals on biodiversity loss will be truly catastrophic. I know I have said this before. No doubt you have heard it or maybe even said it yourselves. But we can't keep deluding ourselves that we are doing enough.

I want Green Week this year – the tenth - to bring out these key issues. I want all of us to reflect on how we can boost their political profile. This year, 2010, is the UN year of biodiversity: we have set ourselves high objectives in Europe and we hope that together with our international partners we will agree ambitious global targets later this year in Nagoya.

We have to look honestly at the benefits biodiversity brings, the current pressures, and possible solutions to the current rates of loss, including the need for a solid baseline that can be used to take stock of future progress. Green Week brings together many worthy ideas and some of the world's finest minds. It brings together the scientists, the environmentalists, and industry. This open market of ideas should generate the good kind of wealth. So let's aim higher.

The task is nothing less than addressing the state of biodiversity and nature in Europe and the world. It's such an enormous challenge… I wonder if we are up to it!? If we do not want to see our lifeline run out, the answer has to be yes. I am almost convinced that everybody in this room wants to agree with me.

We know the reasons why, and we know what we have to do. I hope that the next few days will bring more clarity about who is to do it, and how.

I wish everyone a successful Green Week!

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