Barcelona: where environment, economy and the social dimension meet
Copenhagen, 13 March 2002
This week's European Union summit in Barcelona should see the environment at last given its rightful political place alongside economic and social issues, Domingo Jiménez-Beltrán, the Executive Director of the European Environment Agency, said today in the Catalan capital.
"For the first time ever EU leaders, at the Barcelona summit on Friday and Saturday, will take stock of progress in implementing their Sustainable Development Strategy, which seeks to balance economic, social and environmental needs within a unified framework," he said.
"This is an historic occasion that should see environmental requirements finally integrated, as an equal partner, into the ambitious socio-economic agenda that the European Council set in Lisbon two years ago," Mr Jiménez-Beltrán added.
The European Environment Agency, the key provider of environmental information at European level, has contributed to the preparation of this important meeting under Spain's presidency by contributing data for, as well as assessments of, the indicators used to measure progress in the environmental dimension of the Sustainable Development Strategy.
Mr Jiménez-Beltrán continued: "Indicators are crucial because you can manage only what you can measure. They also aid transparency and make policymakers more accountable to the public.
"At present the EU's sustainability indicators cover climate change, transport, energy production and use, threats to public health from urban air pollution and municipal waste management, but it is accepted that they will be refined and expanded over time.
"The EEA's latest update on the situation and trends in these issues, which we provided in a working paper earlier this month, shows that there has been progress towards reaching targets in some areas but that in general we are not there yet.
"Last week's agreement by EU Environment Ministers to ratify the Kyoto Protocol - the global community's first step in what is likely to be a long struggle to limit climate change - was excellent news and a great success for the Spanish presidency. But meeting the Protocol's targets for limiting and reducing greenhouse gas emissions will be a tough challenge, not least for Spain itself, since current trends and projections in many countries are worrying.
"Climate change, transport, energy, waste, tourism -- these and other driving forces and pressures on the environment are all reflected in the landscape in one way or another. Indeed, the landscape can be seen as a metaphor for the environment - sustainable development is mostly about sustainable use of land.
"EU Member States have already asked for the sustainable development indicators to be extended to cover land use and nature protection and biodiversity, among many other issues.
"For these reasons the EEA has chosen summit week and the summit city of Barcelona to organise two major land-related events, both of which begin today.
"A two-day workshop on the terrestrial environment aims to make progress towards defining indicators that will enable us to measure how sustainably land use, urban and coastal environments and soil are being managed, and thus eventually to improve their management.
"Our second event, a week-long exhibition on Europe's changing landscape, seeks to draw the public's attention to the growing challenges facing Europe's territory. After Barcelona the exhibition will go on tour to other parts of Spain.
"The key message is that Europe's land, the marvellous natural gift we have inherited, is under threat. Too often land is given only an economic value for development, construction of infrastructure or agriculture. But land is also a scarce and non-renewable asset which is highly valuable because of the amenities it offers to society and the vital functions it supplies to the economy and ecosystems. The EEA takes its responsibilities for informing and communicating about this issue very seriously.
"Land is of particular relevance to the Mediterranean basin, whose coastline is one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in the world - in both socio-economic and ecological terms - but also one of the most degraded and threatened.
With Barcelona's tradition as a forum for discussing Mediterranean issues, it is entirely fitting that these events should be taking place here, on the eve of EU leaders' first-ever review of Europe's sustainability."
Note to Editors
The EEA working paper issued earlier this month is posted on the EEA website at http://org.eea.europa.eu/documents/speeches/speech_march_04.
About the EEA
The European Environment Agency is the main source of information used by the European Union and its Member States in developing environment policies. The Agency aims to support sustainable development and to help achieve significant and measurable improvement in Europe's environment through the provision of timely, targeted, relevant and reliable information to policy-making agents and the public. Established by the EU in 1990 and operational in Copenhagen since 1994, the EEA is the hub of the European environment information and observation network (EIONET), a network of some 600 bodies across Europe through which it both collects and disseminates environment-related data and information.
The Agency, which is open to all nations that share its objectives, currently has 29 member countries. These are the 15 EU Member States; Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein, which are members of the European Economic Area; and 11 of the 13 countries in central and eastern Europe and the Mediterranean area that are seeking accession to the EU -- Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Romania, Slovenia and the Slovak Republic. Their membership makes the EEA the first EU body to take in the candidate countries. It is anticipated that the two remaining candidate countries, Poland and Turkey, will ratify their membership agreements within the next few months. This will take the Agency's membership to 31 countries. Negotiations with Switzerland on membership are also under way.