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European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]

Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

Working together for a better future and quality of our lives, within the limits of our planet

Panel discussion on the 7th EAP (Environment Action Programme)

Berlin, 6 March 2014

Presenting the 7th EAP

Thank you for receiving me here in Berlin and for giving me the opportunity to present the 7th Environment Action Programme, and to discuss with you how we can use the objectives set out in this booklet [publication on the 7th EAP] to bring about real progress on the ground between now and 2020.

The 7th EAP entered into force on 17 January, so now is a good time to start discussing next steps.

Of course, the EU institutions and the Member States are equally responsible for its implementation, so it is logical that we should work together. For that same reason, I want to warmly thank Minister Hendricks for giving us this opportunity to jointly present the 7th EAP and discuss it with all of you.

I'd like us to start by considering the programme's title: "Living well, within the limits of our planet" – what does it actually mean?

This is set out in the long-term vision of where the Union should be in 2050:

To quote that vision: "In 2050, 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 sustainably, and biodiversity is protected, valued and restored in ways that enhance our society’s resilience. Our low-carbon growth has long been decoupled from resource use, setting the pace for a safe and sustainable global society."

Thankfully, we don't need to start from zero. The 7th EAP builds on a solid foundation. Over recent decades, the European Union has put in place a broad range of environmental legislation. As a result, air and water pollution has been significantly reduced. Chemicals legislation has been updated and the use of many toxic or hazardous substances has been restricted.

Today, EU citizens enjoy some of the best water quality in the world and over 18% of EU's territory has been designated as protected areas for nature.

However, many challenges remain and they must be tackled comprehensively, and in a structured way, if we are to deliver the level of environmental quality we wish to achieve. The 7th EAP will help guide our way from now until 2020.

Now let us look in detail at how the programme aims to get there. There are three main priorities: protecting and enhancing the EU's natural capital, turning the EU into a resource‑efficient, sustainable and competitive low‑carbon economy, and safeguarding EU citizens from environment-related pressures and risks to health.

As part of sustainable and competitive low-carbon economy, the programme also set us on the right track towards developing the Union's climate and energy framework beyond 2020. It confirms that this framework should be legally binding, with clear objectives to guide investments needed to deliver the 2050 objective of reducing GHG emissions by 80-95% compared to 1990 levels. And all sectors of the economy will need to contribute.

In order to realise these priority objectives, the programme identifies four so‑called "enablers": better implementation of EU environment law; improved information including state-of-the-art science; securing the necessary investments in support of environment and climate change policy; and full integration of environment into other policy areas.

Finally, the programme outlines two horizontal priorities: making the Union's cities more sustainable; and helping the Union address international environmental and climate challenges more effectively.

Why do we need these two additional elements?

Firstly because Europe is densely populated and 80 % of its citizens are likely to live in or near a city by 2020. Cities often share a common set of problems such as poor air quality, high levels of noise and greenhouse gas emissions, water scarcity, and poor waste management. Secondly, many environmental challenges are increasingly global challenges and so we need to address them together with our international partners as part of the transition to a more sustainable global economy. The 7th EAP lists the actions we need to take in order to address these challenges.

This brings me back to the important point of working together – not just at different levels of governance but also across the various sectors in society – for example, government, business, civil society and ordinary citizens.

Germany's role and interests

Germany played a crucial role in the development of the 7th EAP, and in setting out the levels of ambition it contains. We look forward to continuing the excellent co‑operation as the implementation work gathers pace.

In line with the suggestion made by Germany during the public consultation, a precautionary approach and sustainability were retained as core principles in the 7th EAP.

Germany also wanted to see "environment and health" strongly featured in the 7th EAP, with a particular focus on the effect chemicals have on the lives of citizens.

As I mentioned, "a healthy environment for healthy people" is one of the three priority objectives of the programme, and it includes a strong focus on reducing risks associated with chemicals.

Germany also firmly supported issues relating to nutrient management and the nitrogen cycle to be tackled under the 7th EAP. This, too, is reflected in the final text.

Progress in implementing the 7th EAP

So how far have we come in putting the priorities into practice? Although the 7th EAP only entered into force very recently, the Commission is already working on its implementation. Some initiatives are well underway and others are currently in preparation. I will mention just a few:

Related to the first priority area on natural capital, we are working with Member States on mapping and assessing ecosystems and their services across Europe, so that the values associated with them can be better taken into account in decision-making. This work will be key to better integration of biodiversity in other policy areas. Last September, the Commission presented a new Forest Strategy, and last month we adopted a Communication on wildlife crime, which launches a consultation process across Europe on how to prevent and deal with this terrible problem, which is resulting in the loss of the elephant and rhino populations and depriving many people in Africa of an important source of livelihood linked to safari tourism.

Finally, we hope that a new regulation to combat Invasive Alien Species, which is the second most important cause of biodiversity loss in Europe, will be adopted very soon.

Looking ahead, we are getting ready for the mid-term review of the Biodiversity Strategy scheduled for 2015. And later this year, we will launch a Platform to address challenges related to Large Carnivore populations, such as wolves and bears. Our conservation policy has helped bring these species back from the brink in many parts of Europe, and while this is a great achievement, we recognise it is not without problems. We need to see how we can make it work for the animals and for the people who need to work and live with them.

As to the second priority objective of making the EU a resource efficient economy, I will be proposing a policy package in the coming months that will aim to advance the transition to a circular economy. This will include a waste policy review which will lay the ground for a more coherent framework for waste legislation, and more cost-effective ways of implementing it. It will also present the state of development of key indicators and will put forward an overall target, providing a clear direction for improving resource productivity. The package will be complemented by a Communication on Green Jobs, which I am preparing jointly with Commissioner Andor.

Relating to the third priority on environment and health, a very important first deliverable of the 7th EAP was the adoption, last December, of a comprehensive Air Quality Package. This year we will engage in discussions with the Member States and the European Parliament to reach agreement on how to improve the air quality for our citizens by 2020 and beyond.

Further important ongoing work in this area includes improving the implementation of our main piece of chemicals legislation - REACH -, but also devising a strategy on endocrine disruptors and continuing to look into how to address problems linked to nanomaterials.

On sustainable urban development, we are working on developing urban environmental performance criteria and related indicators.

On the international scene, we will continue our work on the post-2015 development framework. Our ultimate aim is to get international agreement on a single framework where Sustainable Development Goals can better address current challenges. Future SDGs will need a strong environmental component.

I mentioned the "enablers" for the 7th EAP priorities earlier. Improving implementation has been a vital theme for me throughout my mandate. We are currently working on a package of two very important implementation-related issues, both following up on the 7th EAP, which should help us make further progress. They are related to inspection regimes and improving Access to Justice.

A further "enabler" is better investment in support of environmental policy goals. Here, the 7th EAP calls for the phasing out of environmentally harmful subsidies at Union and Member State level without delay, and reporting on progress through the National Reform Programmes; increasing the use of market-based instruments, such as Member States' policies on taxation, pricing and charging; and expanding the market for environmental goods and services, with due regard to potential adverse social impacts, supported and monitored by the Commission inter alia via the European Semester;

In this context, we are currently pushing for further greening of the European Semester. There are hopeful signs. The Annual Growth Survey for this year explicitly highlighted resource efficiency and shifting the tax burden away from labour to pollution, among its key priorities.

Here, the responsiveness of Member States to the country-specific recommendations made in the European Semester process will be crucial to its success.

Another "enabler" is integration. I have worked hard to bring the environmental dimension into all other relevant Union policies, like agriculture, fisheries, cohesion, transport... and I could continue. I believe we have made reasonable progress, but the 7th EAP will help us to go even further.

Finally, the knowledge base is of crucial importance for sound environmental policy making. I am working closely with all our knowledge‑providers, including research institutes, agencies and the scientific community, but in this area, co-operation and commitment of Member States is very important. We need to take advantage of new digital media to share information and better inform both policy-makers and the wider public.

Into the future

Allow me to finally place the 7th EAP in the broader perspective of European policy-making, not only for the coming seven years, but also beyond.

The new programme provides the framework for EU institutions and Member States to join forces in implementing the vision that we have defined in 'EU 2020'. It requires concerted action if we are to deliver the long-term objective of living well, within the limits of our planet.

To ensure policy continuity – also beyond my mandate – it is important that resource-efficiency remains a part of the Europe 2020 strategy and that it is further strengthened in the review of this Strategy.

In this context, the right signal to send would be to include a resource-efficiency headline target in the future revision of the Europe 2020 strategy.

To conclude, I am pleased to say that the new 7th EAP sends a clear signal that the EU and its Member States support strong and smart environment policies as a key condition for healthy living and for creating a competitive, resource-efficient economy in Europe.

We all need to realise that tackling Europe's environment and climate challenges is not only essential in its own right, but is also an opportunity to bring about the long-term growth and societal wellbeing on which the future of the EU depends.

Public authorities and governments alone cannot make this transition, but they can provide the right guidance, incentives and leadership in order for others to make the necessary changes.

***

Ladies and Gentleman,

As you can see, the structure of the 7th EAP nicely fits on only one transparency. It is logical and easy to understand. At the same time, it is also complex and far from easy to deliver.

But, we have no choice. We have to deliver. 21st century is the century of fragility and we have to turn it into the century of sustainability. So called long term challenges are here and we have to address them now.

Environment is not an obstacle to economic growth and to the development of the society, as sometimes you might here. It is just the opposite. Ignoring environment and ignoring all the challenges we are facing together, is the best recipe for limiting our growth and development potential in the future. So, when we talk about the future, we should not necessarily talk about green growth. Because the growth in the future will be green or there will be no growth.

Thank you for your attention.


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