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Speech - ‘Living well, within the limits of the planet’

European Commission - SPEECH/12/900   04/12/2012

Other available languages: none

European Commission

Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

‘Living well, within the limits of the planet’

High level IEEP (Institute for European Environment Policy) conference on the future of EU environmental policy

Brussels, 4 December 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This meeting is very timely. Although our efforts to tackle the financial and economic crisis are starting to show results, we are still far from where we want to be, especially when it comes to employment and giving people a chance to get their jobs back.

That is why some may ask: “How can we focus on the environment when everyone is talking about austerity and cutbacks. What does the environment have to do with growth and jobs?” The fact is that in the long run it has everything to do with it! We have been arguing that for a long time. Last Wednesday, one day before the Commission adopted the proposal we are discussing today, the EAP, we adopted our recommendations for short term growth in the Annual Growth Survey. Here we emphasised the need to ensure, not just the growth of today, but also of tomorrow. We insisted that correcting the problems of the past and putting the EU on a more sustainable development path for the future, is a shared responsibility of the EU Member States and the EU institutions. And we clearly acknowledged that the process of economic recovery is not only about stimulating growth, but it is also about building the basis for a different quality of growth in order to ensure a prosperous inclusive and resource efficient future… Because the environment and the economy go hand-in-hand! The truth is that we are facing a number of crises. Not just an economic and financial crisis, but also a resource crisis, a climate crisis and a biodiversity crisis. Let's not imagine that we can tackle one while ignoring the others. We need to find ways to tackle all of them at the same time, and we need to find ways to deliver multiple benefits for the economy, for people and for the environment.

For me this is the most honest point of departure when it comes to discussing the future of the EU's environment policy. And this is the approach I started working on the day I took office as Environment Commissioner. We have been working both on our own proposals, and together with other colleagues, on proposals that touch upon other areas to get results aimed at protecting nature, but also at stimulating sustainable growth, creating new jobs and setting Europe on a path to prosperity and health - all within the limits of the planet. We also managed to put forward proposals for the next EU budget that would make massive steps in mainstreaming the environment and climate objectives and would also lead to a far-reaching environmental reform of the CAP. Especially if the level of environmental and reform ambition that the Commission has put forward in our proposals will be maintained in the final EU budget. All these were made possible by the timely adoption of strategic initiatives in the field of environment, in particular the Resource Efficiency Roadmap, the 2020 Biodiversity Strategy and the Low Carbon Economy Roadmap. In parallel, the independent review of the previous EAP and the European Environmental Agency's State of the Environment report, have provided some of the key inputs on the basis of which we were able to take important decisions that have allowed us to come forward with this proposal.

***

Ladies and gentlemen,

In our proposal we set out a clear vision of where we should be in the long term. “We live well, within the planet's ecological limits. Our prosperity and healthy environment stem from an innovative, circular economy where nothing is wasted and where natural resources are managed in ways that enhance our society's resilience. Our low carbon growth has long been decoupled from resource us, setting the pace for global sustainable economy”.

In one sentence, the EAP has the three-fold aim of achieving an inclusive green economy, whilst protecting our natural capital and the health of our citizens.

The 7th EAP should:

First, secure the commitment of EU institutions, Member States, regional and local administrations and other stakeholders to a common agenda for environment policy action up to 2020. Responsibility for achieving the goals will be shared by the EU and its Member States. This is the key cornerstone of the proposal. This means that we have the responsibility to deliver results, to take actions at the appropriate level and to fully implement the commitments we all undertake. This may sound obvious, but it was not the case in the past programmes. This is now a real opportunity for all institutions and Member States to translate the calls for high level of ambition into ambitious results on the ground.

Second, we propose to agree on three key priority areas on which we need to focus our efforts. We must protect, conserve and enhance our natural capital, on which so much economic activity depends. Besides implementing our 2020 Biodiversity Strategy and recently adopted Blueprint to safeguard our waters, we identified some gaps that need to be filled –soil and land use are very clear examples – and areas where there is room for improvement, including forest policy. We will also need to step up actions needed to protect the health of our oceans and seas, by for example adopting quantitative targets on the reduction of marine litter.

Next, we want to put in place the right conditions for a single market for a resource efficient, low-carbon growth. This should be the core of the green economy we want to create. It means fully implementing the climate and energy package and agreeing the next steps for climate policy beyond 2020, including the implementation of the low-carbon roadmap by 2050. It means improving the environmental performance of products over their entire life cycle and reducing the overall environmental impact of consumption. And it means turning waste into a resource and boosting growth through further development of our recycling sector. Where it makes sense, we propose to set targets for the reduction of the overall impacts of consumption. A concrete example is the aim to half the EU's food waste by 2020.

Finally, we must tackle environment-related challenges to health, making sure also that we are prepared for new and emerging risks. Here the focus is on updating air quality, noise and water legislation, and addressing concerns linked to chemicals and nanomaterials.

So how do we get there?

By focusing on the 4 'i's: better implementation of legislation; better information, by improving the scientific evidence base; more investment for the environment, and full integration of environment into other policies. Making these "enablers" happen therefore forms the next four priority objectives.

Concretely, this means phasing out environmentally harmful subsidies, shifting taxation from labour to pollution, drawing up partnership agreements between Member States and the Commission on the implementation of EU environmental law, introducing complementary inspection capacity at EU level to address areas of serious concern. It also means developing a system for tracking environment-related expenditure in the EU budget. Another very important element will be integrating environment and climate-related considerations into the European semester process where that makes relevant impacts.

The programme also aims to help EU cities become more sustainable. The EU is densely populated and by 2020 it is likely that 80% of people will live in urban and peri-urban areas. We want to acknowledge the importance of the urban dimension for the entire EU, but we do not want to replace the level of action where it is most efficient. We propose to give the opportunity to local authorities to show the “green bill of environmental health” to their citizens, by agreeing on a common set of criteria that can help them asses their environmental performance.

Last but not least, we acknowledge global challenges. We clearly acknowledge the need to reduce the impact of consumption of the EU on the environment beyond its borders. But we have to make sure that other parts of the world that generate most environmental impacts and consume most resources do the same. We propose ways on how to follow up the results of the Rio +20 conference, and in particular working together towards the adoption of Sustainable Development Goals.

***

Ladies and gentlemen,

The challenges we are facing - all together - in the 21st Century, are simply too serious and complex to be addressed only on the basis of a short term approach and logic. Our proposal, the 7th EAP, puts together different strands of our on-going work that are necessary for a transition to a low-carbon, resource efficient economy, to protect our natural capital and to address the health impacts of environmental degradation.

In the EU, we clearly recognize that the challenges we face today will inevitably put the brakes on growth if left unaddressed. Resource efficiency, which has been at the centre of my mandate as Environment Commissioner, is designed as a tool that will help us achieve a sustainable green economy. Resource efficiency is a partnership between the environment, business and society. In a resource constrained world, where natural resources will determine future wealth, an intelligent economic growth model must take into account our natural capital.

Resource Efficiency is helping us to mainstream environmental considerations into economic thinking. It is now becoming closer also to the heart of our economic policy. This year, the Spring European Council, in its conclusions on economic governance, asked for the rapid implementation of the EU resource efficiency and low carbon roadmaps. This affirms the EU commitment to pursue green growth and the importance of the resource efficiency agenda for a sustainable exit from the crisis. We responded in part by putting forward last week the proposals in the Annual Growth Survey.

The new environment action programme is designed to maintain this momentum, not to turn back, but to reset the clock on implementing and building on our achievements of the past. While we set out new levels of ambition in many areas that need first the agreement of the European Parliament and Member States and then decisive action, there are a number of areas on which we need to continue working at full speed.

Over the coming months we will continue to build on the momentum created to drive the resource efficiency agenda forward. The "European Resource Efficiency Platform", is expected to deliver specific recommendations for first priorities in summer 2013, including on how to measure progress and what targets to aim for. This work will be supported by the Resource Efficiency Financing Roundtable, which will look at the barriers to environmental investments and provide recommendations to move forward on this front too.

The implementation of the Biodiversity Strategy is also well underway, and we will now be taking forward the Water Blueprint, which was adopted last month. Proposals on resource-efficient products are in the pipeline, aiming to open up opportunities for businesses to increase sales across the Single Market. And next year, we will focus on improving air quality.

We have consulted stakeholders extensively in the process of bringing this Programme to life; and we have heard the views of the other EU institutions. Based on this work, I am confident about the vision we have set. I am sure of the priorities we have identified and of the actions we are proposing. I hope you share these priorities and will help us deliver this vision. I often heard the word "ambition" in association with this proposal. I am confident we will have the opportunity to discuss the proposal thoroughly and openly in the coming months. But, nevertheless, today I would just like to say that I sincerely hope that the programme we will finally adopt will keep the level of ambition we have put forward with our proposal. Call it a challenge if you wish … I think it is the right word to describe the tasks ahead of us.

Thank you for your attention.


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