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European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science

"Scientific support for growth, jobs and sustainability: the eco-industry example"

JRC Conference

Brussels, 15 May 2012

Mr Swoboda, Mrs Guillou, ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to open this conference on "Scientific support for growth, jobs and sustainability: the eco-industry example" hosted by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre.

This event takes place at a crucial time. Europe faces enormous challenges, and the need to return to economic growth and job creation is critical to our recovery from the current crisis. We also need to protect our fragile environment and take account of the changing pressures and limitations on our planet.

The world's population is growing rapidly, and is set to reach 9.3 billion by 2050. By then, 70% of people will live in urban areas, compared to only 30% in 1950. These dramatic demographic changes are placing increasing pressure on resources. Water scarcity is a real and growing problem in many parts of the world; we need to find new sources of raw materials and energy, and we can no longer take clean air for granted.

Of course, climate change requires urgent action - the European Union has committed to a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

With these challenges come opportunities. Eco-industry presents a real opportunity to boost Europe's competitiveness and contribute to economic development while promoting long-term sustainability at the same time.

The EU is a major producer and exporter of eco-industry applications and in some areas like waste management and treatment, the EU is a world leader. We do face serious competition however, and the best way to maintain our competitive edge and increase market share is by investing more in research, science and technology.

Europe's eco-industry is already a major economic force. Sectors such as air pollution management and control; waste collection and treatment, renewable energy and recycling, have a combined turnover of over 300 billion euro and provide nearly 3.5 million jobs.

And the EU's share of global eco-industry markets currently ranges between 30 and 50% depending on the sectors. These are growing markets, and I believe that with the right scientific support, European eco-industry companies can become real drivers of economic growth and job creation, particularly in the areas that will be reviewed during today's conference.

Let's look at these sectors individually, starting with water.

Clean, plentiful water can no longer be taken for granted and is rapidly becoming a highly valuable asset. The EU water sector is already a major economic player – representing 1% of GDP with a turnover of more than 100 billion euro and an average growth rate of 5% per year.

However, water management in Europe still requires enormous improvement – in some European cities up to 60% of water is lost because of leakages - and water treatment technology must also be improved.

Where water scarcity is a challenge, desalination offers great potential for improving supplies. But energy costs remain high in this area, and new techniques will have to be developed to make desalination an economically viable option.

All of these issues require urgent attention - if nothing is done, we are likely to face a global fresh water deficit of 40% by 2030.

Let's turn for a moment to waste management and recycling. In Europe, we throw away around 3 billion tons of waste every year. Each one of us creates an average of 500kg of household waste annually, and only 40% of solid waste is recycled.

This is a scandalous waste: a waste of valuable energy used in incineration, a waste of precious land for landfill, and a waste of raw materials that can be turned into new products and new sources of energy.

The EU aims to significantly reduce the amount of waste we generate, through new waste prevention initiatives, better use of resources and by encouraging a shift towards more sustainable consumption patterns. Important investments are also needed to develop new technologies that will enable European companies to turn costly waste into profitable products.

These measures are at the heart of the EU's Bioeconomy Strategy that I launched in February with my colleagues Vice President Tajani and Commissioners Damanaki, Ciolos and Potocnik.

Evidence shows that reducing waste production and finding new uses for waste offer a win-win solution. There will be obvious environmental benefits, and according to estimates, 500,000 new jobs could be created in the EU by 2025 if 70% of key materials are recycled efficiently.

Renewable energy and energy efficiency are also key sectors with great potential for the EU.

We know that energy requirements will grow by 50% by 2050 and at the same time we need to reduce CO2 emissions. The realities of global demand, together with the need to tackle climate change, require a major shift towards a low-carbon economy.

Renewable energy sources play a key role. They can reduce the EU's external energy dependency while promoting sustainability and competitiveness.

Renewable energy accounted for 11.7% of energy consumption in the EU in 2009, and we are committed to reaching 20% by 2020. This is an ambitious target, and serious scientific support is required to advance the techniques and technologies to deliver on it: more research is essential for effective and efficient wind turbines, biomass, solar power and biofuels.

With a global market share of about 35%, the EU is a key player in the energy efficiency sector. Existing buildings are a particularly important untapped source of energy savings. As 90% of these buildings will still exist in 2050, renovating and upgrading this building stock can offer enormous savings while creating new jobs across Europe.

Finally, let's consider the air that we breathe. 40 million people in the 115 largest cities of the EU are exposed to air pollution levels which exceed the World Health Organisation quality standards.

I find this shocking, both in terms of public health and wellbeing and of course because of the serious economic impact. To put this in perspective, chronic respiratory disease, to which poor air quality is a major contributor, accounted for 4.2 million deaths around the world in 2008.

And we can do something about it in Europe. For example, technological innovations in the transport sector and the use of renewable energy sources have a direct impact on air quality.

This is a rapidly developing and highly innovative area with considerable economic and employment potential and, happily, this is an area where Europe leads the way.

Meeting 20% of Europe's energy needs from renewable sources will reduce our negative impact on the environment, improve air quality and could create over 600,000 jobs in the EU by 2020.

The eco-industry is already a major player and promises great things for our society and our economy. So, we are taking very practical steps at European level to enhance and support the development of the different eco-industry sectors. The Europe 2020 Strategy identifies these sectors as key contributors to sustainable growth and the shift towards a resource efficient, greener and more competitive low carbon economy.

And Innovation Union, which I launched in October 2010, contains a series of commitments to improve the basic conditions that allow researchers, entrepreneurs and companies to flourish in these and other sectors.

I am committed to removing the obstacles that prevent innovators from transforming the excellent basic research that Europe does so well, into new products and services that will be successful on world markets. In this context, we need, for example, faster standard-setting in Europe, cheaper and easier patenting, more public procurement of innovative products and services and better access to venture capital. Innovation Union will help us reach these and many other innovation goals.

Horizon 2020, the new instrument for European research and innovation funding for 2014-2020, will strongly support eco-innovation. Horizon 2020 will offer a simpler, more efficient, and more effective programme to deliver the research and innovation needed to sustain growth and to tackle societal challenges such as climate change, health, energy and food security.

And the European Commission's in-house science provider, the Joint Research Centre is already playing its part. The JRC is directly involved in exploring the potential of eco-industry sectors, and is providing world-class scientific research and data to underpin new developments.

The JRC has a wide range of laboratories and unique research facilities at its disposal, particularly in solar energy, smart grids, the new generation of batteries for electric vehicles, water resources, air quality and climate. The JRC also develops robust modelling and foresight systems that help us identify new and emerging issues where scientific advice will be needed in the future.

But the JRC is not acting alone. Now more than ever, we are conscious of the need to work together – between Member States and at international level – exploiting synergies and avoiding overlaps. This high level of cooperation will only grow in the coming years.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

To conclude, let me emphasise that the eco-industry is a key driver for European growth and can significantly boost employment and productivity in our industrial sectors. To achieve this and to maintain our competitive advantage, we must continue to invest in research, science and technology. We need to invest smartly – cooperating across borders and across disciplines. Horizon 2020 will help us do just that.

Our eco-industry has a pivotal role in reconciling competitiveness and sustainability. I am committed to ensuring that research and innovation policy provides the best possible conditions for progress in these sectors, and supports the cutting-edge science that is essential to underpin those advances.

It has been a pleasure to open this conference and I look forward to hearing the results of your discussions, because the eco-industry is Europe's "future industry"! Thank you.

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