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SPEECH/11/603

Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

The 2012 UN conference on sustainable development (Rio+20): preparatory work by the European Union

European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) Plenary Debate

Brussels, 22 September 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning.

I would like to begin by thanking you for your strong interest in our recent strategic policy initiatives for sustainable growth: at the European level with the resource efficiency agenda, and at the international level, with our proposals for Rio+20.

You are an important audience – a key link to business, labour and civil society, and you give us vital feedback from your depth and breadth of experience. We all know that no economy will ever turn green without the cooperation and commitment of all stakeholder groups. Green will not happen if we stick to business as usual – and I value your commitment to breaking away from Business As Usual.

I will start by setting the scene, and by reminding you of the basic tenets of resource efficiency. I think you all know the backdrop – the looming reality of large-scale changes around the globe, a population of 9 billion, with 2 billion middle income earners in 'developing countries' expected to triple their consumption by 2020. The impact will be huge.

Europe's position is not secure. We have the world's highest net imports of resources per person, and our economy relies heavily on imported raw materials and energy. Those supplies are not infinitely elastic. Even those that do not run out or are renewable, will become more expensive.

Most of us agree, indeed I think it is pretty obvious, on the need for a fundamental transformation. A transformation of our economic system, from the energy we use to power our economy to the agriculture we use to feed ourselves, the transport systems that move us from A to B, and the industries that have built so many of the foundations we rely upon.

This isn't just about greening Europe – it's about greening the global economy. The green economy, which builds on the sustainable and efficient management of all natural resources, offers opportunities for countries at all stages of economic development, and we are applying this thinking to our strategies and inputs to the next Earth Summit in June 2012.

What we are calling for is a large-scale switch to a resource-efficient economy. One that saves resources wherever possible, one that seeks to dematerialise our consumption patterns, one that values resources in a realistic manner, and one where reuse, repair and recycling have become second nature. We cannot continue to live in a throwaway society; one which consumer 16 tonnes of materials per person each year, of which 6 tonnes become waste, and half of that waste goes to landfill.

The vision for this transformation is set out by the Commission in the Flagship initiative adopted in January. A flagship which is, significantly, a flagship of the main structural economic strategy for the Union… Europe 2020. The Commission highly appreciates your comments and interest in this initiative. I was particularly struck by your insistence on the need for more concrete details – and on the need for specific measures that can be proposed to speed the change to a more resource-efficient economy.

Today I hope to go some way to allaying those concerns, and with a brief presentation of our new Roadmap to a Resource-Efficient Europe – adopted this week - demonstrate that the focus is very much on paving the way for a consistent set of initiatives that will deliver tangible results.

The flagship called for a Roadmap to define medium and long term objectives, and how to achieve them. That is what we have now put on the table – a comprehensive plan to build on the initiatives presented in the flagship, and which also takes account of progress made on the 2005 Thematic Strategy on the Sustainable Use of Natural Resources, and the EU's strategy on sustainable development – a subject close to your hearts!

It has, at its core, a vision of sustainability. Let me read it out for you:

"By 2050 the EU has grown in a way that respects resource constraints and the capacity of our planet. Our economy remains competitive and inclusive, and provides a high standard of living at a far lower environmental cost. Resources are sustainably managed, climate change milestones have been reached, and biodiversity and the ecosystem services have been protected and substantially restored."

This is our vision not only for Europe, but also for the rest of the world, as the resource base we share is the same and our living standards are interlinked.

The Roadmap particularly focuses on three aspects of the way we live today that put the highest pressure on resources: buildings, nutrition and mobility. It focuses on new policy instruments to complement existing legislation, such as market-based instruments that can provide the right market messages and adjust prices to reflect the real costs of resources.

We have fully understood your concerns about tangibility. The road to our long term 2050 vision is paved with milestones to be passed in the more immediate term, from 2012 to 2020. And we will set in place a process to involve all stakeholders in identifying key indicators and potential targets that we can agree on by the end of 2013.

We already propose two types of indicators. First of all a headline indicator on Resource Productivity to measure the main objective of this Roadmap: improving economic performance while easing pressure on natural resources. Second, we suggest a series of complementary indicators for key natural resources such as water, land, materials and carbon, to take account of the EU’s global consumption of these resources.

My hope is that these indicators will go some way to resolving one of the main problems you identified with resource efficiency so far – the lack of awareness in society about the real extent of our resource use.

Because the truth is resource efficiency is here to stay. It is not so much a policy choice as an inevitability. Policymakers – and the European institutions as well – need to start examining a whole range of initiatives through the lens of resource efficiency: this is just the beginning of a long but necessary transition process.

We are of course still in the early days of that transition, so we have much to learn. The Roadmap also identifies areas where further research is needed in a candid fashion, and it opens the way for learning and adaptation as we near the milestones it contains.

I was heartened to read in your opinion on the Flagship initiative your repeated concerns about the limitations of GDP, and
I would again take this opportunity to thank you for the support you have given to our beyond GDP initiative in the past. I know I can count on this continued support, and we all know that changing mindsets on an issue as deeply ingrained in the social fabric as GDP cannot simply happen overnight.

If there is one key to resource efficiency, then it is surely an integrated approach. The success of this sustainability agenda depends on the extent to which we will be able to see it as a watermark in related policy areas. The Roadmap makes this clear and provides a framework explaining how policies interrelate and build on each other, and in which future actions can be designed and implemented coherently. The inter-linkages between key sectors and key resources are also clearly outlined.

The EU is a major economic player at the global level, and that is the scale we are trying to address. Resources, and even waste, which is a resource in itself, are traded around the world. All global players will be subject to pressure on resources, and all global players will need to change their consumption and production patterns. If they do not their perspectives for further development will be seriously compromised. So the logic behind Europe's Resource Efficiency Roadmap is a logic that can be applied to a wider global green economy.

It's my belief that the Rio+20 Conference next year is a unique opportunity to push that agenda. There is a genuine possibility that the conference could mark the start of global transition to a green economy. It offers the opportunity for the EU to advance our commitments to sustainable development while being fully in line with the EU 2020 objectives of smart, inclusive and sustainable growth in the global context.

A clear concern with the nature of growth emerges from the opinions you have submitted through this Committee. Let me answer those concerns by expanding on what we expect from green growth in the wider context.

We expect it to bring development on an international scale: development that will bring real change to people's lives, improving human well-being, providing decent jobs, tackling poverty and pollution, and preserving invaluable assets like the natural capital of developing countries. The sort of growth that offers opportunities for countries in all stages of economic development.

The Commission recently adopted a Communication on Rio+20, spelling out these hopes in full. I co-authored this with my colleague Andris Piebalgs, the Commissioner for Development. By integrating environment with development concerns, we show the urgent need to address what are in fact two sides of the same coin. A positive outcome at Rio is hard to imagine unless the views of developing countries are taken into account.

The aim of the Communication is to lay the basis for further dialogue between the Commission, Council and Parliament, civil society, business, and third countries in the lead up to Rio+20. The consolidated EU position must be submitted to the UN by 1st November 2011.

The Communication takes stock of what has been achieved so far. It maps out key policies and actions needed in the transition to green economy; it addresses the "what", the "how" and the "who" at international, national and regional levels.

A key theme is that of "Investing in Resources and Natural Capital": the "what". That is, investing in natural resources such as water, renewable energy, the marine environment, sustainable agriculture, waste & recycling.

For the "how", we need to promote regulatory environments and conditions to stimulate markets: this can include eco-taxes, removal of harmful subsidies, mobilising public and private financial resources and investing in green jobs.

The "who" requires us to improve governance and private sector involvement: this means reinforcing and streamlining governance structures (for instance upgrading UNEP) and ensuring much greater business involvement.

Success in Rio will be achieved if we manage to convince countries to undertake national actions implementing green economy in a "bottom-up" fashion depending on national circumstances.

And this is where I turn again to you.

Civil society will have an important role as a catalyst in such national developments. The Economic and Social Committee, with your network of sister organisations around the world, will have a vital role to play, building an understanding of the need for resource efficient growth models in the run up to Rio, and countering the idea that green growth is merely a thin cloak that veils the interests of developed countries.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is no cloak. As the roadmap makes clear, it is a formula for inclusive growth on a global scale.

We are counting on you to help spread the message.

Thank you.


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