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European Commission

Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

"Moving towards a resource efficient, green economy in the Danube Region"

WWF Conference

Sofia, 25 June 2013

Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to thank the WWF on its initiative to organise this conference on how to deal with the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities in the Danube region in a comprehensive way.

The Danube connects not only 3 world religions, many languages and ethnicities, EU Member States, candidate countries and neighbouring countries. It also links our economic, environmental, transport, energy, agricultural, and international policies, challenging us to develop integrated policy solutions.

And this is exactly what resource efficiency is about – breaking down the silos in order to deal with the complex reality that we are facing – a reality where the three aspects of sustainable development – environmental, economic and social are often inseparable from each other and demand action at local, national, and international levels.

In line with this approach, the Commission has set out four pillars for core co-operation under the Danube Strategy:

  • connecting the Danube region;

  • protecting the environment;

  • building prosperity;

  • and strengthening the region.

At the same time, the Danube strategy is designed to be driven from the bottom up – so that it responds directly to the needs of the region and the individual countries.

It is also an opportunity to work together to overcome divisions. Only together can we tackle the lack of cross border transport and energy links or the inadequate level of environmental protection. Only through concerted action can we make optimal use of the Danube and its waterways for environmentally friendly transport and preserve its rich natural heritage as home to over 2,000 plant species and over 5,000 animal species as well as more than 2,400 Natura 2000 sites.

Achieving progress on all these priorities is not always obvious. In the context of the on-going economic crisis, one often hears the argument that we should focus on economic growth, and come back to environment once we have fixed our financial situation, and we all have our jobs back. Well, we can indulge in such short-sighted thinking, but it simply will not work. In reality there is no distinction between the short term and the long term.

I am convinced that if there is to be growth, it will have to be Green Growth. Unless we transform our economies into resource-efficient, low carbon economies in the coming years, then we will find ourselves in much deeper economic trouble than we are already in today.

The reasons for this lie in global mega trends:

Our planet's population is expected to rise to more than 9 billion by the middle of this century. We will share our planet with an additional 3 billion middle class consumers by 2030.

We will need three times more material resources – 140 billion tons annually – by 2050. Without significant efficiency measures, by 2030, we will need 40 % more water than we can access. The demand for food, feed and fibre is projected to increase by 70 %. Already today 60 % of the world’s major ecosystems on which these resources depend are degraded or are used unsustainably.

Looking to the future, the "business as usual" scenario simply will not work. Transition from our current resource-intensive economic growth model to a resource-efficient growth model – to a circular economy – is not only absolutely necessary, it is in fact inevitable for all our economies.

For Europe, the eventual exit from the crisis is inextricably linked to the environment. Why?

Firstly: we use a lot of resources. The European economy is built on decades of resource-intensive growth. We use 15 tons of raw materials per person per year. But even worse, per person, the European economy generates, on average, more than 6 tonnes of waste a year, almost half of which is disposed of in landfill sites.

Secondly: resources and energy are getting more expensive. After a century of declining resource prices in real terms, pressures on supplies have led to a steady increase of prices since 2000. On average, real prices for resources increased by more than 300 % between 1998 and 2011. At the same time, resource price volatility also increased. Here, in Europe, 87 % of EU companies expect resource prices to continue rising in future.

Thirdly: already today resources are the dominant factor in the cost structure. We still focus very much on labour and capital productivity because they are the traditional drivers of growth. But actually more than half of growth comes from innovation and changes in technology.

And fourthly: we import more than half of our material, and import six times more than we export. We have the world's highest net imports of resources per person. And that dependency on imports is still increasing.

Here in Bulgaria, you will understand well the challenges of import dependency and the legacy of resource-intensive development. Currently Bulgaria has the most energy-intensive economy in the EU.

However, it is not all bad news – there is also enormous potential. For example, the benefits of better waste management – achieving the recycling targets could create more than 14,000 jobs in Bulgaria and increase the annual turnover of the waste sector by more than € 1.5 billion, while at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 5 to 9 %.

The potential of the green economy can be illustrated by looking at the European eco-industry – since 2000, it has created 1.2 million new jobs, and is providing employment for around 3.4 million people. But this is only one small part of the story. It is the greening of the wider economy that will create the most new jobs.

As a Flagship Initiative of the Europe 2020 Strategy, Resource efficiency is setting the goal of decoupling our economic growth from resource use.

We set out a comprehensive framework for action, in the Roadmap to a resource efficient Europe, based on a broad definition of resources – from metals and minerals, to ecosystems, biodiversity, water, air, land and soils.

For the environment, last year we launched the Water Blueprint to help manage our water resources – both the quality and the quantity – more effectively. This year we are focusing on air policy. Next year we will be looking at how to improve our waste management – moving away from landfill to focus on waste as a resource which can be re-used and recycled. This is a key priority in delivering green growth and a more circular economic model where waste is eliminated.

A broad stakeholder consultation is now open and I would like to take this opportunity to encourage you all to participate in it.

As regards working with the market, our policy approach must include some carrots as well as sticks. We need to go beyond the traditional "three C's" - command, control and compliance - as well as the polluter pays principle, and develop the "three I's" – innovation, incentives and integration.

Therefore, we have been putting a lot of effort into promoting eco-innovation, and developing European Innovation Partnerships, in the fields of water, raw materials and sustainable agriculture. We have also launched a pilot initiative on the Environmental Footprint of products and organisations with a proposal on unlocking the single market for green products. We hope that many companies will participate and help shape this initiative.

The Commission proposals for the EU budget for 2014 to 2020 integrate resource efficiency and greening into mainstream funding (for research – Horizon 2020, cohesion, agriculture…).

Our recent Communication on Green Infrastructure paves the way for enhanced natural capital financing. Together with the EIB, the Commission is working to develop a financing facility to support green infrastructure projects. Stepping up investments from the private sector will also be key to bridging the financial gap, along with exploring the possibility for innovative financing mechanisms. In addition, tracking expenditure on biodiversity is essential to ensure that EU funding is effective in terms of fulfilling the EU's international commitments under the Convention on Biological Diversity.

2013 is a key year for Members States as they set their spending priorities under the next EU budget for 2014-2020. We are currently in the middle of this process and this forum will give you the opportunity to discuss what we can learn from our first experiences with the implementation of the EU Strategy for the Danube Region.

Key questions we need to reflect upon include how we can strengthen our co-operation and how we can integrate the Danube dimension more systematically into our policies at regional, national and EU levels.

Co‑operation on Danube-related investments for the period 2007-13 was less than expected with a number of projects being delayed or cancelled (such as the Vidin - Calafat Bridge, and Danube river navigation projects in Bulgaria and Romania).

The Operational Programmes of Members States in the Danube Basin should seek to incorporate the objectives of the Strategy for the Danube Region into the priority areas for co-operation for example, improving navigation on the Danube, or increasing cross-border connections. We also need to focus our efforts on managing environmental risks, such as floods and coastal erosion, as well as sustainable “green” tourism and better networks for nature protection.

We also need to look at the international dimension which will require better cross-border co‑operation. That is why we have suggested setting up a forum for closer co‑operation on cross-border programming of EU Funds with a view to streamlining and sharing experiences on capacity building and training.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The challenges as well as the opportunities of the Danube region cannot be fully covered in one speech… In ancient mythology rivers were seen as gods. While we have left this magical perception behind, this month countries along the Danube have experienced the power of the river and its capacity to destroy human lives, infrastructure, and communities. Such events remind us that taking care of nature is in fact taking care of ourselves, of our economies and our communities – curbing climate change to prevent more extreme weather conditions, restoring biodiversity, investing in natural capital and green infrastructure.

The success of the Danube Strategy depends on the co-‑operation of all the actors in search of innovative, practical and sustainable solutions. I am looking forward to an interesting discussion and the results of this conference can help shape the strategic approach of all stakeholders to this key European asset.


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