European Commissioner for Environment
An economy that does not leave the Earth behind
WWF conference "Resources Unlimited? Moving to a resource-efficient economy"
Brussels, 11 October 2011
Ladies and Gentlemen,
After the adoption of the Resource Efficiency Roadmap my commitment to resource efficiency goes so far that I have quite frequently started to recycle and reuse my speeches, and yet, I hope they are still useful and still creating new added value. So I already live in a circular economy of policy making and politics.
Never in history has life gone through so many rapid and intensive changes as in the past two centuries. Thanks to human genius science, technology and innovation have improved our lives considerably bringing unprecedented comfort and wellbeing. But in this acceleration we have left the earth behind. As the economist David Ehrenfeld nicely put it in The Arrogance of Humanism – "Humanity is on the march, earth itself is left behind". That was in 1978 yet it is even truer today in 2011.
After enormous growth of economic output and resource use in the 20th century we may now need another Marshall Plan to reconstruct our natural capital. In this respect the Green Growth agenda outlined by OECD at its 50th anniversary Ministerial Council Meeting has the potential to inspire many stakeholders towards the economic transformation we need.
I am aware that in these times of economic turmoil and financial instability, thinking about the environment is considered by many as a luxury we cannot afford. But the opposite is true:… not thinking about the environment is a luxury we cannot afford! Because, in the medium term it will lead to a greater economic crisis, as well as environmental tragedy.
This is why we have placed Resource efficiency at the heart of the European strategy for structural economic reform: Europe 2020. Preserving our natural resources is essential for our longer term competitiveness and growth as well as for our wellbeing.
The era of plentiful and cheap resources is coming to an end. Raw materials, water, air, biodiversity and terrestrial, aquatic and marine ecosystems are all under pressure. And this pressure will only continue to increase with 200,000 more people sharing our planet every day and a global population that is likely to reach 9 billion by 2050.
This is why the European Commission is calling for a large-scale switch to a resource-efficient economy. An economy that does not leave the earth behind: An economy that saves resources wherever possible, that seeks to dematerialise our consumption patterns and that values resources in a realistic manner.
This is why on 20 September we adopted a Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe.
The Roadmap builds on many existing instruments, from waste legislation to green public procurement, and from research programmes to eco-design. But for the first time it puts them in a coherent and predictable framework. And for the first time it integrates them into the wider story of our structural economic programme. This is very important.
I have been asked many times how the Roadmap will be implemented, and how it will come to life. Well, it is already alive! It has set the Commission a large number of new commitments, and it has set us on the road to a large number of new policy directions. The Roadmap breaks new ground and lays down ambitious milestones. It is now our political priority and obligation to meet them!
Our biggest challenge is to use less of what we have but to achieve the same, or even more. This is how we intend to make sure that we will no longer leave the earth behind. But this will require the commitment and participation of everybody.
This challenge will not only involve technological innovation, but changing our behaviour, both as consumers and as producers. Getting the prices right might do some of the work, but we also need to make sure consumers are aware of their power and responsibility, and are able to make informed choices.
The big societal challenge is to reconcile smarter consumption attitudes with our consumption-dependent economy. Technical efficiency gains often lead to increased consumption, which erodes the benefits of that efficiency. We urgently need to develop means to overcome this "rebound effect". That is why we need instruments on both the supply and demand sides.
On the supply side, by producing "more with less", products become more resource efficient. For instance, by setting benchmarks of environmental performance, the Ecodesign directive has made a range of products more efficient in the use phase in addition to reducing emissions and saving money to EU citizens. The first 9 Ecodesign measures adopted will allow yearly savings by 2020 equivalent to nearly 16 % of present EU electricity consumption. This means that this instrument alone is taking the EU closer to its 2020 energy efficiency target.
Just imagine that we get these kinds of results not only for energy efficiency, but for wider resource efficiency!
And on the demand side, another opportunity to make our product policies work better is to align the European Ecolabel, Energy Label and Green Public Procurement criteria, thus creating a larger, more accessible and simplified market for sustainable products. Around 15 % of EU GDP that is spent by public authorities should be used to give a boost to innovative resource efficient products and services.
It is obvious that like in any economic transformation there will be winners and losers. For those who are ahead of the curve it will be an immense opportunity. The winners will be those that are developing and using the new materials, recycled materials and non-toxic renewable materials that will take the place of products that once landed in landfills at the end of their life.
I am pleased that for this conference we have joined up with ACE - The Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment – whose members have strived to improve the environmental performance of much of our packaging. And by focusing on ensuring the use of sustainable resources, lower carbon footprint, and on technical solutions to recyclability, the companies involved have also ensured, I am certain, a certain competitive advantage as well.
Other winners will be those that are adopting new and innovative business models such as leasing for example. As for the losers … well… my belief is that if we prepare for the resource constraints of the future in a predictable and controlled way now, the pain will be a lot less than if we close our eyes until we hit real shortages and price hikes.
We do not fool ourselves about the scale of the challenge. The UNEP study on the Green Economy estimates that worldwide investments equal to 2 % of global GDP per year will be needed until 2050 to support the transition to green economy. This will require not only spending for green solutions, but greening of all public and private investments. The Commission proposal for a Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020 has already made major steps towards integrating resource efficiency in the EU budget.
But how will we do this? Our main approach is to mainstream resource efficiency into all the major EU funding instruments, including cohesion, agriculture, fisheries, research and external aid. This is in line with the objective to green all public spending and to avoid environmentally harmful expenditure, in support of Europe 2020 strategy. The Resource Efficiency Roadmap points in particular to the need to focus EU research funding under the Horizon 2020 programme on key resource efficiency objectives and supporting innovative solutions.
The Roadmap also looks outside Europe in the global economy. As we prepare for the next Earth Summit in Rio in June 2012, can we convince developing and less developed countries that they have a common interest in taking care of our planet's resources?
The economic growth of this century will be most marked in emerging economies, where it has the potential to lift billions out of poverty. But one thing is sure – that will never happen if the developing world simply follows the development pattern of today's rich countries. The approach that worked in the 19th and 20th centuries will fail in the 21st accelerating the degradation of our already fragile environment, and worsening climate change.
The answer is not to slow growth, but to work towards the right kind of growth, towards economies that secure growth and development, improve human well-being, tackle poverty and preserve the natural capital upon which we all depend. It means going down a different path building on the sustainable management of the natural capital in the developing world, making use of low-carbon and resource-efficient solutions and stepping up efforts to promote sustainable patterns of production consumption.
The Rio+20 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.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
My main message for you today is that even though natural resources have been used unsustainably for decades, and even though we already now have to face consequences of the carefree - but careless - attitude of some generations - I am strongly convinced that it's not too late to open our eyes, wake up, and ensure that future generations continue to have access to all these resources we still enjoy today - drinkable water, soil, timber, clean air ...
If we all wake up now, we can prevent the nightmare of shortages and volatility prices in the future. This is the message I want to pass on to you, to all sectors of industry and businesses, but also to all Europeans. Unless we all make fundamental changes to our consumption habits, the plan of transforming Europe into a sustainable economy will not succeed.
I will finish by presenting you a video clip which is part of the awareness-raising campaign on resource efficiency we will be launching in all EU countries next week. We want to wake up European citizens and remind them about the importance of their daily choices - remind them that their choices make a world of difference and that it is possible to continue to march without leaving the earth behind.
I hope you will find the video-clip and the campaign interesting, useful and attractive. I certainly do.
In short for me it is a good example of creativity for sustainability!
Thank you for your attention.