The Mid-term Review of the 6th Environment Action Programme

Speech Published 29 Nov 2006 Last modified 13 Apr 2011
Speech by Professor Jacqueline McGlades at EEB Annual Conference

Professor Jacqueline McGlade
The Mid-term Review
of the 6th Environment Action Programme
EEB Annual Conference

Brussels, 22 September 2006

Introductory Remarks

I warmly welcome this initiative from the European Environment Bureau to take stock on where we stand with the implementation of the 6th EAP and to look forward to its mid-term review.
In the short time available to me to respond to Peter Carl’s introduction, I would like to address four issues:

  1. what the Agency’s recent State of the Environment Report highlighted in terms of environmental priorities;
  2. some reflections on the role of Member States in terms of implementation;
  3. how to respond to the broader discussions about better regulation and policy effectiveness – in other words the context in which the mid-term review of the 6th EAP will be conducted;
  4. and the need to reach out to the younger generation – not just through formal education but by making the environment their action agenda.

The EEA’s Main Input: The State and outlook report on the European environment 2005

As I have said time and again since becoming Executive Director of the European Environment Agency, the EEA does not police the legislation. That task falls to others.
Our primary objective is to provide the facts and to report on the state of the environment in Europe – giving facts for action.
Our main input to the mid-term review of the 6th EAP was the third state and outlook report on the European environment which we launched at the end of last year.
In broad terms it concluded that the unsustainable development of some key economic sectors was the major barrier to further improvements.
If I were to sum up the hundreds of pages in five challenges, it would be that:

  • we face increasing urbanisation and land abandonment;
  • climate change is already here;
  • progress on energy demand management is slow;
  • we are healthier, but exposure to pollutants remains;
  • we are depleting our natural resources.

Policy makers must be farsighted and integrated in responding to these challenges.

Our analyses on market based instruments and sectoral subsidies show that it is a gradual shift away from taxes on labour and investment towards taxes on pollution and the inefficient use of materials and land that will be essential; something which is recognised in the renewed Sustainable Development Strategy and upon which the Commission is to report by 2007.

We also need reforms in the way that subsidies are applied to transport, housing, energy and agriculture. Again, this has been picked up in the renewed SDS with its call for the Commission to work on a roadmap for reform “sector by sector” of environmentally harmful subsidies.

So the views of the Agency were rather clear and we delivered them to the European Commission in good time to feed in to the 6th EAP mid-term review. It is also reassuring that some of the challenges have already been highlighted in the SDS review.

Don’t forget the Member States …

But I would add another point at this stage and that is not to become too Brussels-centred in our discussions. Of course it is primarily the institutions here which set the environmental agenda, but we must also keep the spotlight on the individual Member States and how today’s environmental agenda can become more relevant to the younger generation.

For the first time ever in an EEA report, the state and outlook report on the European environment provided a country level analysis of progress on environmental issues using a scorecard based on a key subset of indicators.

It goes beyond a standard indicator-by-indicator assessment by providing a composite scorecard of results across the nine indicators.

The scorecard acted as a communication tool by bringing together information in one relatively easy-to-understand format and presentation, and as we expected, attracted a lot of attention from the media in the Member States.  But State and outlook reporting is a process, not an event, and the 2005 report was very much a first step. What we are now doing is translating the key messages into multimedia applications and educational material for use in schools and the wider community.

Better Regulation and Policy Effectiveness

In terms of better regulation and policy effectiveness, the European Commission has tried to ensure that legislative proposals are “of high quality, simple, relevant and effective”.
This is not an area where environmental policy makers need to be on the back foot. On the contrary, environmental policy has been in the vanguard of better regulation initiatives in relation to the innovative use of market-based instruments, impact assessment, simplification, framework approaches and stakeholder consultation. The Agency sees that the 6th EAP review should highlight this aspect.

The political backdrop against which the Commission will launch the review is one of increased attention on growth and employment in Europe - the Lisbon Strategy. So let me at this point make a couple of points about the perceived costs of environmental protection.

We should not accept the fuzzy logic that better regulation equates with less regulation which then leads to lower costs, more competitiveness and hence more jobs. On the contrary, good regulation can now be shown to reduce costs for industry and business, create new markets and drive innovation.

We have 30 years of experience of environmental policy legislation at EU level, during which time well over 200 legal acts have been put in place. Over the last ten years, since its creation, the EEA has evolved from an organisation providing environmental information and data on the state of the environment to one which is able to report on the effectiveness of existing environmental polices and their implementation.

The two pilot studies launched last year – on the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive and the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive – taught us some valuable lessons.
The overall conclusion from the two studies is that governance can make or break the success of a policy. The institutional setup can be as important as the design of the policy itself. Decisions taken down the line with regard to implementation, who is involved, who is responsible, the resources at their disposal and the tools to be used … all of these shape and re-shape the policy outcomes.
You may be aware that the Heads of the European EPAs agreed a declaration in Prague concerning the contribution of good environmental regulation to competitiveness.
The Prague Statement speaks about “modern regulation” and argues that:

  • Modern regulation can reduce costs for industry and business: research in the UK suggests that waste minimisation could yield almost 4.4 billion Euros saving in manufacturers’ annual operating costs; industry could save 2.7 billion Euros through energy efficiency; and, the agriculture sector could save some 1.3 billion Euros through improved environmental management practices;
  • modern regulation can help create markets for good and services: the world market for environmental goods and services is estimated to be worth 425 billion Euros and is likely to grow to 565 billion Euros over the next five years, a figure comparable with the aerospace and pharmaceutical industries;
  • modern regulation reduces business risk and increases the confidence of the investment markets and insurers: for example, recent figures show that the difference in financial performance between the best and worst environmental performers in the oil and gas sector was nearly 12% over three years;
  • modern regulation helps create and sustain jobs and
  • modern regulation improves the health of the workforce and the wider public.

It would therefore be helpful if the proposal for the mid-term review could similarly be accompanied by a statement specifically addressing these better regulation issues.

We know that is always difficult to establish the so-called “counterfactual” – but think how powerful it would be if the communication on the mid-term review of the 6th EAP included an assessment of how much worse the state of the environment might have been and the associated costs if the 6th EAP had not been implemented!

Concluding Remarks

Let me draw a few concluding remarks.

The EEA’s state and outlook report concludes that the four headline priorities in the 6th EAP – climate, biodiversity, health and resources – are still the key issues. But it is also significant to recognise that we also need to address sustainable consumption and production patterns to ensure environmental quality in the future.

Although, the scientific rationale for environmental policy is getting stronger, people will not act sensibly without evidence of both the cost of action and inaction. Leading organisations and companies involved in Corporate Social Responsibility underline this by stating that they cannot yet find clear answers to ensure that the big challenges can routinely become part of their operations. The most enlightened organisations realise it is not just about improving efficiencies by factor 4 or factor 10, it is about changing the views of the whole work force.

The Agency will continue to play a leading role in providing data, information and knowledge to policy-makers on climate change, air pollution, fresh and marine water, biodiversity and land use, and drawing on its policy effectiveness studies to identify lessons that can be learnt from member states in implementing environmental policies over the past 30 years. We hope thus to be able to support member states and the EU deliver the remainder of the 6th EAP.

Thank you


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