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European Commissioner for Environment
“Next steps in EU environmental policy”
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Committee of the Regions - Commission on Environment, Climate Change and Energy : Round table discussion
Brussels, 3 March 2010
Thank you for the opportunity to come here today and share with you my vision for environmental policy and how we can strengthen our co-operation. I think we are speaking the same language.
Environmental policy is far from new at European level. It has developed gradually – in the form of legislation to protect our air, water and natural resources – since the early 1970s. But for much of that time it has been considered as an imposition... a restriction... and therefore something that is counter to competitiveness and growth. Even as a kind of luxury, that comes after we have generated the riches we need to pay for it. It was often seen as something campaigned for by a small band of well-intentioned people wearing woolly jumpers.
T oday our Eurobarometer surveys show how much that has changed. The vast majority of Europeans now consider the protection of the environment to be a priority, as it impacts directly on their quality of life.
We are seeing a similar change in the business world. Where “green growth” had been seen by many as an increasingly lucrative niche - building windmills and cleaning up waste - today more and more of the mainstream economy is changing its behaviour. There is an increasing understanding that the “green economy” is about cleaner industry... not just cleaning-up industries.
Regional and local authorities have always played the key role in organising Europe’s communities in everything from waste collection to public transport, from schools to parks. You help to ensure that our environmental objectives are met in the most appropriate way, in diverse regional circumstances, across Europe. And through your actions at local and regional level, EU policies and frameworks are turned into tangible results. The Committee of the Regions as your representative body at EU level must therefore play an important role by feeding this experience and these views into environmental policy-making.
The creation of the ENVE Commission is therefore a really welcome development at this crucial time.
This morning, with my fellow Commissioners, we adopted the Commission’s proposal for the successor to the Lisbon “Growth and Jobs” agenda: the Europe 2020 Strategy.
We now wait to see how the Heads of State will react at the Spring Council.
The strategy is principally an economic one and as you would expect it continues the reforms necessary to develop the EU’s competitiveness on the basis of a knowledge-based economy. But it is not just a crisis exit strategy – it is a 10 year strategy. And a fundamental difference from its predecessor – for which I have insisted strongly – is a new emphasis on green growth.
We need to set the basis now for the world we want for our children in 2050. With the world population projected to reach 9 billion people, with wealthier emerging economies, we need to radically change our production and consumption patterns to keep our planet a good place to live in.
So in this context what are my plans as Commissioner for Environment for the next 5 years?
As Jo will remember, in my hearing as nominee commissioner in the European Parliament (which he chaired) I set out my three main priorities. These are:
Let me take you through these in turn.
First, resource efficiency…
Europe is still a long way short of developing a truly resource efficient economy. By resource efficiency I mean not just energy, but all material resources - food, land, timber, soil, water, minerals, metals... and so on.
Making the EU more resource efficient makes environmental sense, but it also makes economic sense, business sense and geo-political sense. Of course it will reduce the pressure of economic growth on the environment, but it will also reduce input costs, increase our competitiveness, reduce our import dependency, our vulnerability to external shocks, and improve our trade balance. To extend an already over-used expression – it is a “win-win-win-win-win” option. But it is not an easy one.
Our policies must create economic conditions that will incentivise reduced demand for natural resources. To be effective resource efficiency has to be mainstreamed into EU and MS' economic and industrial policies and in all sectors of the economy If we want to change behaviour we must ensure the right price signals for all economic actors, from consumers to businesses, and of course for local and regional authorities, which are important procurers and businesses in their own right.
That is why I insisted so strongly on resource efficiency being included in the EU2020 strategy. But what can we do in concrete terms at European level? There are already opportunities on the horizon.
Later this year I will present an Action Plan on eco-innovation, which will aim to promote it more effectively across the economy, so that it permeates into all sectors, including services, and into households.
I will also work to advance more sustainable consumption and production patterns to increase demand for green products and greener production technologies through public procurement, clear labelling of green products, substitution of the worst performing products on the market, and fully exploiting the potential of waste and recycling policy as a source of secondary raw materials.
Crucial to this whole approach is that environmental concerns must be reflected not only through environmental legislation. It needs to permeate all European policy areas. I intend to work closely with my colleagues in the Commission to ensure that environmental issues are taken into account when they are developing policies under their responsibility.
Also crucial is that actors at all levels are involved. That is why the multi-level governance of EU2020 will be essential to getting results. We must ensure that Member States also take ownership of the objectives and live up to their responsibilities.
Local and regional authorities will play an important role by addressing resource and energy efficiency at their levels; the Covenant of Mayors is already an excellent step in this direction. They must mobilise public procurement to promote the early uptake of eco-innovative goods and services, they must adopt EMAS for local and regional organisations, they must more generally encourage changes in citizens' behaviour and consumption patterns.
The financing framework for the next period from 2014 for EU funded actions will be set in the coming years. I would ask you – the members of the Committee of the Regions - to be particularly attentive to the environmental dimension in that debate and to ensure that your consideration of the principal axes of EU spending (Cohesion funds, CAP, CFP, etc.) contributes to green growth.
Now I come to my second priority – Biodiversity.
Despite our efforts biodiversity loss continues, and the threats from biodiversity loss are growing.
Climate change, fisheries, agricultural and urban expansion and human population growth are accelerating the extinction of species and degrading natural ecosystems.
Biodiversity resources... for example fresh water, timber, protection from natural hazards, erosion control, and recreation... are more important than we usually appreciate for our economies, and for our well-being. If these services are not provided naturally - by well managed ecosystems - they have to be replaced by artificial and engineered solutions at considerably more cost to public, regional and local budgets.
At the beginning of this year the Commission proposed options for new biodiversity targets and a long-term vision.
I will devote my efforts to ensure that these are agreed in 2010 and a new realistic but ambitious strategy for biodiversity is designed and negotiated for Europe and internationally.
But as we have learned from the past, just agreeing on targets is not enough. Within the EU, habitats legislation and the NATURA 2000 network of protected areas are the key tools to ensure that we deliver on the goals that we set for ourselves. Progress will depend on decisions being taken at local and regional levels that are truly sustainable when it comes to infrastructure, planning and development. I am sure that members of this Commission will play important roles in many of those decisions in your respective states.
Finally I come to implementation...
After 40 years, and with some particular developments in the last 5 years, I think we have a pretty comprehensive environmental acquis today. Yes, it needs to be simplified... gaps need filling... and in some cases it needs strengthening, but on the whole we have the means to ensure clean air and water, safe chemicals and well treated waste for European citizens.
However, legislation is of no benefit if it is not implemented. And evidence suggests that implementation could definitely be improved in most areas. Half-hearted and uneven implementation renders only short-term gains, and is also fundamentally unfair.
In the first place, my focus will be on preventing breaches, helping member States with compliance before resorting to enforcement. Since much implementation takes place at regional and local level you have a very important role by helping to share and discuss best practices. This can help spread good ideas and encourage administrations to innovate. For example different cities and towns have adopted different strategies to address urban air quality, waste management, water treatment, public transport and urban development... some more successfully than others.
Initiatives such as the European Green Capital Award recognise efforts made at local level to improve the environment, the economy and the quality of life of growing urban populations, and I will look for your co-operation in selecting the winners.
Let me conclude by stressing again the need for involvement of all EU actors and stakeholders in the tasks ahead. I am pleased to see that the Committee of the Regions is already very much involved. The quality of your recent reports on Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment and on Biowaste demonstrate that clearly. The establishment of this Commission will strengthen that involvement.
I am particularly looking forward to your forthcoming opinion of the role of local and regional authorities in future environmental policy. In that context I invite you to consider the priorities I have just set out and I will certainly listen to your concerns and ideas.
Let us work together to design and implement the policies that will make green and growth go together.