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Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

Europe Environment Policy: what's next?…

Session 7 – Closing debate at the conference "Towards a genuine 7th Environmental Action Plan"

Brussels, 26 November 2010

I would first like to thank the Belgian Presidency for their hard work over the last year. This has been a great help, both in evaluating the 6th Environmental Action Programme and in looking at the next steps.

Thank you also for providing two questions for orientation of today's debate – they are actually very interrelated.

You know I want a full and wide assessment of the 6th EAP, the future environmental challenges, and on the best ways to tackle them.

I am also in favour of a strong European environment policy. One which improves the quality of life for Europeans, but which does so in a global context.

This will need strong policies as well as a strong knowledge base – and of course appropriate implementation.

So what do we need today?

We need realistic analysis and discussion. First we need to know what the new environmental priorities should be.

We've achieved a lot in Europe over the last 10 years. And our environmental policies and legislation are envied and often copied across the world. Climate change, energy targets, waste, emissions or chemicals are all good examples. And even the less positive, like the biodiversity story, have been to some extent balanced by the outcome of the Nagoya Conference.

But, without any doubt, there is still much to do.

Our changing world has new environmental challenges. It is a very different landscape from when the 6th EAP was proposed. This means looking forward 20 or 30 years from now and thinking what type of world we'll be living in.

On the conservation status of our most important habitats and species, in air pollution, especially in our urban areas we must do better. And we still produce too much waste. We will need to look hard at our existing consumption and production – and use our natural resources more efficiently.

Resources have to be a focus. Because our future will undoubtedly be resource constrained. It is estimated that global population will grow from the current 6 billion to 9 billion by 2050, and we can also expect to see massive growth of the middle classes in emerging economies. Given current trends in consumption, we can imagine what kind of pressure on resources this will mean. While more and more we are decoupling our resource growth from resource extraction – 'absolute' resource growth and extraction is increasing. This negates any efficiency gains.

From a strictly European point of view, we also need to consider the implications of these trends on our dependency on resource imports. We face greater supply risks though increased competition for land and for ‘high-tech metals’ and even water. In more fragile and unstable states, these challenges can have a real impact on migration, security and resource supply.

Our grandparents always used to talk about 'living within our means'… we need to be inspired by them when we think about our resources! That is why I have dedicated so much effort to resource efficiency since becoming environment Commissioner. In 2011 we will be presenting a roadmap for a resource efficient Europe…which could well be the foundation of future environmental policy.

To summarize my response on the first question. We need realistic analysis and discussion. About lessons learned form the 6th EAP, what has worked and what has not. About the changing reality of the world since 2002 and in the decades to follow. We need immediate discussion and action on what the key policy proposals concerning - for example - biodiversity, climate change, resource efficiency, and implementation should look like. This is about integration and coherence, not just between environmental actions, but coherence between general polices that bear heavily on the environmental outcomes. It is a debate about future CAP, CFP, Structural and Cohesion funds, future of EU's research and innovation polices, and last but not least the debate on next Financial Perspectives. We need to discuss the environmental challenges of next 20 or 30 years. Many of these questions are on our agenda now or in the next half of the year. We can not afford not to be present and active in these debates, we can not afford not to have them.

Is the form also important and should we also discuss it? Yes, but the definite decision is not so urgent and decisive for the future quality of the environment as substantial issues which I have just mentioned. Do we need 7th EAP? It could well be and I see many strong arguments for it. But at this stage of debate I would prefer to focus on the substance.

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There is no doubt that we need to change our approach on environmental risk management. And we need to broaden the scope of environment policy making because many of the key drivers of change already operate outside the realm of European environmental policy. This means rethinking environmental governance - building environmental interests in our policy making at an early stage.

We will need to think differently. We will need to be responsive, more knowledgeable, and we will need to make our policies integrated and coherent.

Responsive and flexible environmental policies are the order of the day. External conditions are changing so quickly, and often fundamentally. So we need to be as agile. Think about the recent changes proposed for the Common Agricultural Policy. This is a clear example of a 'traditional' policy, which has to move with the times – in this case because of pressure for additional food production with knock-on environmental consequences.

We need a better knowledge base. To better understand and take action. Because we can't know if we are being sustainable or not unless we can measure it. This means knowing more about our most complex systems. And being able to share that information – just as the TEEB project is doing already. We need to look hard at how we are gathering and using knowledge - we will need to work closely with key knowledge providers, the EEA, commission's own JRC, national institutes.

This leads to our need to build integrated policies to meet common goals. This is especially true as many of Europe's environmental challenges are now inter-linked. Who could look at issues of food, energy, water and health security, urban living or the design of future use of natural capital in isolation? The environmental 'angle' has already become a natural part of transport, chemicals, energy subsidies, development policies. The EU has today much greener agricultural and maritime policies than when we adopted the 6th EAP. The same can be said about policies on energy efficiency and renewable energies, and cohesion policy today supports investments in green infrastructure and green technologies.

I would suggest that our first thought – when considering new policies - has to be…is this policy coherent? Our second thought must be…can it be properly integrated? The third must be…how easy will it be to implement it?

This is what we have tried to do with Europe 2020. It sets out our stall for an unprecedented level of coherence between our policies. It is a transformational agenda for a sustainable Europe, through the building of a knowledge-based, green and resource efficient economy.

Of course, Member States have a crucial role to play in this. At national level - with the national reform programmes and collectively at EU level as well. In the new governance cycle of EU 2020 there will be a European semester. This is where sectoral Councils, including the Environment Council have a crucial role to play. This is where we have the greatest potential for ensuring that integration and coherence can properly play out in favour of environment and sustainability. Do we want environmental and long term sustainability to be achieved by ensuring the transformation of your economies? This will be the best place to do it. I often hear about "ambition" from many of you. If there is a challenge that requires ambition, this is the one.

And you know I can't and won't avoid talking about legislation. Because it will continue to play an important role in achieving environmental objectives. Compared to 2002 when the 6th EAP was adopted, EU legislation is now in place in most of the environmental areas. The 6th EAP showed us where the gaps were. In recent years we have improved the acquis, with the adoption, for example of the REACH legislation, the Air Quality Directive, the Climate and Energy package or the Industrial Emissions Directive.

And this is where we need to think back to what I said earlier about implementation because this is what we need to do – implement and deliver on our environmental objectives. In some Member States, the acquis is still not properly applied, which undermines our credibility enormously. We need new and innovative approaches and instruments for better implementation and enforcement.

The Commission will help Member States with this. And we will pay particular attention to regional and local authorities. This is why I am very supportive of the work done this year by the Committee of the Regions on environmental governance.

Ladies and Gentlemen

During 2011, we will see the 6th EAP Final Assessment. I will, of course, be asking for your opinion just as I am today. It goes without saying that financing will be a big consideration. And all of us - the Commission, European Parliament, Member States and NGOs – will need to build in the environment into the policies and into the funds that can make the difference. I'm looking to you - again to all of us - for the suggestions on the best way to take environment policy forward and achieve our ambitious environmental goals.

I have given some of my ideas about the new world we live in and how we should prioritise our actions within these new realities. To summarize the answer on your second question again. For me the question is not on whether we need legislation or market based mechanisms or improved governance or better implementation record. We need all of them. The question is how we best mix them to address the real challenges – the patterns of production and consumption, to induce the behavioural change that will leave people with choice but still deliver results. We need to address the sources of problems that are getting more and more systemic. We need to transform the economy. Core environmental instruments will still play an important role in this, and we have to think about it in a long term and in a strategic way. But we need to be part of the bigger debate. We need take the challenge and be ambitious about it. The new economic cycle and European semester would be a wonderful opportunity to do just that. And I am counting on you.

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