Navigation path

Left navigation

Additional tools

Other available languages: none


Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

'Growth will only come if we change our behaviour’

Speech at the House of Representatives of the Republic of Cyprus

Cyprus, 1st June 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen, honourable Members of the House Standing Committee on the Environment,

My last visit to Cyprus was 5 years ago when I was the European Commissioner for Science and Research. It is a real pleasure to be back, with the new and challenging portfolio of Environment, and with less than a month to go until the Republic of Cyprus will take the helm of the European Union.

You will take the helm at a difficult time for Europe, for its Member States and for the world as a whole. Your Presidency will inevitably be confronted with important decisions, and I have every confidence that the Cypriot Presidency will do an excellent job.

I was very pleased to hear that within the broader identity of the Cypriot Presidency, environment is under the umbrella of "a more efficient and sustainable Europe". For me it is absolutely essential to see our environmental agenda as an integral part of the wider policy agenda.

From the beginning of my current mandate I have tried to take the environment to the heart of the economic debate. That is why from the start I put our resource efficiency flagship at the centre of the Europe 2020 Strategy for sustainable, smart and inclusive growth. I believe that resource efficiency is the most significant and innovative aspect of Europe 2020 compared to its predecessors.

The economy and the environment are deeply inter-linked and inter-dependent and we must use economic means to achieve our environmental objectives. But I don't push resource efficiency only for this reason. Improving our resource efficiency is also essential for our future competitiveness and long-term prosperity.

I would go further to say that resource efficient growth is not just essential for competitiveness; it is actually inevitable in face of global megatrends.

We will share our small planet with 3 billion extra middle class consumers by 2030. That is great news for those 3 billion whose living standards will rise, and great news for the businesses that will thrive on providing for their demands. But those demands will also put immense strain on many resources.

We will need three times more resources – 140 billion tons annually – by 2050. The demand for food, feed and fibre is projected to increase by 70 %. Yet already today 60 % of our ecosystems underpinning these resources are degraded. Without efficiency gains, by 2030, we will need 40 % more water than we can access.

These resource scarcities and pressures will be a constraint on growth for us all. It means that in order to remain competitive, and to continue to raise our living standards, we must decouple our resource use from economic growth. This requires changes in our behaviour as producers and consumers, and that in turn requires a wide approach across many policy areas and policy instruments, and it requires the mobilisation of the private sector. Environmental legislation is not enough.

So most of the policy competencies relevant to achieving greater resource efficiency are not in my hands, or in the hands of my colleague commissioners. They are in the hands of the national governments. That is why you as national parliamentarians have such an important role to play.

The European Commission is trying to provide what help and guidance on resource efficiency it can through the Annual Growth Survey and European Semester process of Europe 2020. In the framework of the 2011 European Semester, the European Council adopted 7 country-specific recommendations for Cyprus. One of these aimed at ensuring sustainable management of your national water resources. And just two days ago the Commission adopted its assessment of your 2012 national Reform Programme.

I would appeal to you as national parliamentarians to keep a close eye on how Cyprus responds to the Commission's Annual Growth Survey. For 2012 we have called for the elimination of environmentally harmful subsidies, and for a shift in taxation from labour to pollution and resource use.

Besides the long term benefits of transforming our economies to a resource efficient growth path, there is also a strong short-term economic rationale. European companies are leading in many of the green technologies that will be needed to bring about the transition, and the global markets for water and waste management, for renewable energies and recycling are growing fast. Last week in Denmark I visited a water pump maker that is growing at 8 or 9 % per year, even in the current economic conditions.

There is enormous and immediate potential for stimulating investment and new jobs in environmental sectors. Just take waste, for example. A report we have just published calculates that full implementation of the existing waste legislation by Member States would create 40,000 jobs and save € 72 billion a year compared to non-implementation. In Cyprus alone it would translate into more than 2000 jobs, and an increase of over € 200 million in the annual turnover of the waste sector.

Unfortunately I have to say that on this Cyprus is really at the bottom of the European class. You have one of the highest rates of municipal waste generation – 760 kilos per person in 2010. And over 80 % of this is landfilled. This means you have the highest amount of landfilled waste per capita in Europe. And without any action, the amount of waste generated and landfilled here will double by 2025.

I could focus here on all the reasons that this is bad for Cyprus; with your scarce landfill capacity and precarious drinking water supply vulnerable to groundwater pollution. I could focus on the legal requirement to comply with the waste management hierarchy and targets. I could focus on the fact that waste accounts for 17.3 % of Cyprus's greenhouse gas emissions. But I would rather say to you that waste is a fantastic opportunity that you should not waste.

The key to adopting more modern management of waste is to see it not as a problem, but as an opportunity. If you treat waste right it becomes valuable and people actually want it, either as valuable secondary materials, or to generate energy.

Add to this the job creation potential in waste management that I just mentioned and I think that you would agree that there are plenty of reasons to encourage investment in modern waste management, without even citing the environmental ones.

Waste is one of two areas that are specifically marked out for Cyprus in the 2012 Country Specific Recommendations. The other is water; both are valuable resources, and water is a particular priority for me this year.

Water is one of the most precious resources we have - essential for our life, health and well-being - but also for economic growth and prosperity. We need it so that our agriculture, fisheries, transport, energy, tourism and many other industries develop and prosper. Yet, it is a resource that is still too often undervalued and undermined.

Later in the year I will present a blueprint to safeguard Europe’s water resources, a strategic document that will put forward policy recommendations for the future of EU freshwater policy. The Blueprint will identify current gaps and future priorities, steer water policy developments until 2020, using an analysis that integrates economic and climate modelling until 2050. I know that the Blueprint is eagerly expected by the Cypriot Presidency who has decided to put water at the top of its environmental agenda. This focus is more than welcome and I’m looking forward to working with you in order to prepare ambitious Council Conclusions.


Ladies and gentlemen, as parliamentarians your daily "bread and butter" is legislation. And as you know, we have quite comprehensive environmental legislation at Community level. It has been the basis of our approach to environment over the last 30 years and it has already provided our citizens with cleaner water and cleaner air. It has curbed the excesses and punished the polluters.

Legislation also has an important role in delivering out resource efficiency goals, even if we are looking to many other non-legislative and market-based instruments.

But as legislators, I am sure that you would be the first to agree that legislation is not much use if it is not implemented. Non-implementation is also unfair, and leads to distortion of markets.

Delayed or inadequate implementation of environmental legislation has many negative consequences. The costs of not implementing current legislation are broadly estimated at around € 50 billion a year. These relate not just to environmental but also to human health impacts. For example, between 20 and 50 % of the European population lives in areas where the air quality breaches European limit values and the estimated annual costs in terms of health expenditure, or days of work lost, run to billions of Euros.

In March we looked in some depth at how we can improve the implementation of the environmental acquis in a Commission Communication. We focused on two themes: knowledge and responsiveness.

First, in terms of knowledge, we argued that information, such as environmental data, must be made more timely, complete, relevant, reliable and transparent, and we set out ideas about how to achieve this.

Second, in terms of responsiveness, we explained how we should enhance inspection and surveillance systems: either by increasing Commission powers, by enhancing peer review between national authorities, or by providing for joint inspections.

We also looked at how to strengthen the means by which Member States respond to citizens' complaints and ensure access to justice.

There are several ways in which you as national parliamentarians can help in ensuring that environmental regulation is effective.

First, you can help complete the transposition process on time. It is disappointing, for example, that many Member States missed the transposition deadline for the new Waste Framework Directive – one of the instruments that can help deliver those 400,000 jobs I referred to earlier. Delays mean uncertainty for investors and stakeholders and undermine the level playing field.

Second, you can help design national implementing rules and systems that best fit the challenges within the Member State concerned. For example making sure good information systems are in place from the outset so that implementation can be efficiently tracked.

Third, national parliaments have an essential role in monitoring to make sure that the right results are delivered. Citizens shouldn't need to write to Brussels because of a lack of remedies at national level. That is why we suggest strengthening national systems.


Honourable ladies and gentlemen,

Your role as national parliamentarians is fundamental to developing a truly integrated approach to achieving resource efficient growth, and for ensuring full and effective implementation of environmental legislation. It has therefore been a particular pleasure to speak to you and I look forward to working with Cyprus intensively over the coming months.

Side Bar