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European Commission

Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

Our natural capital is endangered

Launch by the world bank of initiative on natural capital accounting in the context of the ongoing Rio +20 conference / Rio de Janeiro

20 June 2012

Your excellences, Distinguished guests

We all came here because we recognize that the challenges are probably even bigger than they were 20 years ago. It is clear that resources trends in the 20th century cannot be replicated. But also that we know better how to address them, that there are ways of turning it into opportunities. This is why the EU is so serious about transformation into a greener, more resource efficient, circular economy. This combines growth with jobs, innovation and environmental protection and it can be – if well designed - beneficial for all.

This is part of our overall strategy - we call it "Europe 2020". It links environmental, social and economic - just as Rio. Process 20 years ago set out. Restoring natural resources, together with efforts to recycle and re-use materials and make production processes more effective are part of this equation. European Commission even set out a milestone which requires that by 2020 at the latest natural capital and ecosystem services will be properly valued and accounted for by public authorities and businesses.

And we wanted the same level of ambition to come out of this summit. It is clear to all that our natural capital is endangered, and that its continued depletion is threatening the long term supply of ecosystem goods and services that are essential for our livelihoods. It is also clear that this will first affect the poorest populations.

The Economics of this threat is also more and more clear, one example: overfishing- according to the TEEB study - is reducing the income from global marine fisheries by US$50 billion annually, compared to a more sustainable fishing scenario.

In 2008 the TEEB1 Report warned: “The annual welfare loss generated by loss of ecosystems services will amount to 7% of the global annual consumption by 2050”.

And I think all of us today understand that one of key actions to avoid this loss is that we value must be properly recognised and measured in the market economy: "we cannot manage what we cannot measure".

This is already part of something we are doing across the EU, with some of our Member States even more advanced. It is because we believe integrating these values into accounting and reporting systems will help mainstreaming biodiversity concerns into decision-making.

The Europan Union Member States are engaged in a first mapping and assessment of ecosystems and their services, to be delivered by 2014. It will be the first analysis of EU natural environment in terms of economic, health and shared social value.

As agreed in Nagoya, this will ultimately lead to the valuation of ecosystems and their services, and the integration of these values in accounting and reporting systems at national and EU level.

We welcome that the UN Statistical Commission has adopted the "System of environmental-economic accounts" as a UN statistical standard this spring. The EU is already implementing the elements of this new standard.

We are looking forward to the next step on this: the further development of eco-system accounts. These accounts will tell us in hard figures how our economies and societies are depending on healthy and resilient eco-systems.

It is not only important to measure the natural capital and whether it's growing or shrinking, but also what we achieve with using it. Do we achieve economic growth? And what do we gain from this economic performance: a better life, better health, greater well-being and happiness? And is this sustainable for the generations to come?

GDP per capita tells us about performance, the real outcomes for people and their prospects for the future are not accounted for. The EU is advancing such metrics with its "beyond GDP" initiative since 2007.

We are also looking to actively work with the rest of the world on improving the knowledge base and evaluation of natural capital. We need to help those countries that a willing to go ahead. And this brings me finally to words of heartfelt thanks to the government of the United Kingdom, the World Bank and the Natural Capital Declaration for bringing us together. The President of European Commission has already expressed his political support to Mr Zoellick couple of days and I am happy to express our support today. It is an important initiative for the world.

And finally, just to add that the European commission is currently negotiating support the WAVES programme of the World Bank, and I will see that this is advanced as soon as I am back home.

1 :

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity.


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