10th Anniversary of the European Environment Agency

Speech Published 24 Nov 2004 Last modified 16 Oct 2014
Welcome speech, Hôtel d'Angleterre, Copenhagen, 24 November 2004 at 19.30

Copenhagen, 24 November 2004

10th Anniversary of the European Environment Agency

Professor Jacqueline McGlade
Executive Director, European Environment Agency

Welcome speech, Hôtel d'Angleterre, Copenhagen, 24 November 2004 at 19.30

Good evening Ministers, Madam Vice-President, Excellencies, Friends and Colleagues

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to tonight's dinner, part of the European Environment Agency's 10th anniversary celebrations. First and foremost I would like to thank all of you for coming to Copenhagen; for some it is home, but for many others it is a chance to visit and catch up with friends and colleagues. My second round of thanks must go to the 10th Anniversary team, led by Teresa Ruch Olsen who have put such incredible energy into organizing all the events. I am sure you will agree that tonight's setting and the profile which has been given to the conference and side events will make it hard for us to forget the experience. And finally, I want to acknowledge all of you who have made the Agency what it is today- a centre of knowledge about the environment, full of vitality and enthusiasm, with a sense of direction and conviction - simply one of the best places to work in the world.

Ten years is not such a long time in institutional terms when you look around. But over those ten years, there have been tremendous changes, not only in society but also in nature itself. We have seen the decline in many species across Europe, across all levels of the ecosystem; we have seen an exponential rise in the demand for cars; waste is still increasing both in per capita terms as well as overall; and in many regions the first serious signs of climate change are beginning to emerge. And yet at the same time there have been tremendous improvements in air and water quality, in access to nature and a general appreciation of the importance of landscape in both the rural and urban context.

But analyses of territorial changes using the data from Corine Land Cover show that Europe is now facing an even greater challenge -- that of competing demands for space in a rapidly changing set of landscapes. And the overarching aspirations of the Lisbon agenda to achieve a leading position as the most competitive, market based economy, place even harsher demands on the territory. Why is this? Well to date, Europe's development has been the outcome of many ad hoc - some would even say chaotic- decisions that have generally merged together as a result of core policies in the areas of agriculture and infrastructure. But these demands on the natural capital have spilled out well beyond Europe's boundaries. So much so that we must now face up to the realisation that to move forward on a trajectory designed to meet the Lisbon agenda, Europe will have no option other than to exploit the rest of the planet or fundamentally alter the way in which it does business by becoming dramatically more efficient in its use of land and other natural resources. I can only hope it will choose the latter course of action.

That a choice might exist is clear; how decisions will be made is less so. The level of public trust in governmental decision making is generally waning in many member states, whilst at the same time there is a concerted effort by particular sectors to force the direction of Europe into even more intense use of the world's natural capital through loud and seemingly scientifically based campaigns. People do not really have sufficient information to check the veracity of many of these claims and as such are left to decide sometimes arbitrarily -- which leads inevitably to a growing sense of unease and cynicism.

This is particularly true when it comes to global issues such as climate change where individuals feel they cannot influence the agendas. But public trust is what will be needed to ensure that Europe moves ahead on the basis of informed consent -- where not only the information to be used but also the source of the information can be verified. The fact that the debate will now need to centre on not only the economy but also the resources required to support the economy -- people as well as natural resources such as clean air, water and soil and biological diversity --means that the Agency's role as an interlocutor and source of objective and reliable information and advice is even more critical. The challenge for the Agency is thus to ensure that the citizens of Europe can feel confident about what they read and hear, that they can communicate in a two-way process and that the debate about Europe's future is not a sterile debate but one that will truly reflect what is possible today without exhausting our resources for future generations.

Tonight we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Agency in the same year as the bicentenary of Hans Christian Andersen is under way, the famous storyteller of old. Perhaps in a few decades time we will have become the storytellers of the environment and how we managed to build a sustainable future for our children.

Thank you all once again for being here to celebrate our first 10 years and I wish you a very enjoyable evening.


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