EU's Environment at the Turn of the Century

Speech Published 28 Jun 1999 Last modified 16 Oct 2014
Declaration of Copenhagen

Copenhagen, 28 June 1999

EU's Environment at the Turn of the Century

Domingo Jiménez-Beltrán, Executive Director of the EEA

Declaration of Copenhagen

We must and can do something. It is now or never!. "Facts are facts, perception is reality", Einstein."Perception precedes action", Aristotle

After 30 years in the business of environment, in private and public, and at regional, national and Community levels. I am not only optimistic (which you need to be anyway in this business) but positive, about the prospects for the Environment in the European Union.

We do have a diagnosis and a short term prognosis (until 2010) on the EU environment patient. And it says that the situation is not good and it will even get worse in some areas in the near future (e.g. waste, soil, chemicals, effects of the ozone layer depletion and climate change) and there is still a lot to do so that the air we breath, the water we drink and the food we eat is of adequate quality. And all that results from inadequate economic development, or prosperity, inconsistent with the community goal (Art. 2 of the Amsterdam Treaty) of sustainable development, particularly in sectors such as transport, tourism, land uses, urban sprawl and infrastructures development, whose environmental pressures are coupled, in different degrees, to the economic growth, with road transport and some of its pressures growing faster than the economy.

However, the conditions and the signs for recuperation are emerging and the prospects are good in the medium term, for improving environmental quality and progressing towards more sustainable development and improved quality of life, if we take advantage of the emerging opportunities.

For the first time, I begin to see a shared vision and common interests from the real "doers": the economic sectors, business and local capacities and the environment sector. And for the first time, I see civil society and the public in general (as consumers in particular) and active groups and NGOs, eager and ready to participate actively.

We must now seize these opportunities. The Cardiff European Summit (June 1998) Initiative, making all the relevant formations of the Council (and the related economic sectors) accountable, is establishing a fast operational track, including a reference model (indicators) and targets, and a real "ex ante" (anticipatory) and "ex post" (retrospective) mechanism of control (assessments and monitoring of progress and prospects and distances to target).

The big challenges are: for the EU to show the way (possibly at next Helsinki Summit in December 1999), and give an example of robust implementation of the sustainable development paradigm, and if possible beginning at Rio+10 (in 2002). This experience, and accompanying innovations, should be shared with Accession and developing countries, enabling them to "leap-frog" our history, and to find a more direct route to sustainability. Such European Leadership has the potential to bring the USA, and even the WTO, to see that there are more opportunities than threats in the sustainability agenda.

EU's environment Policy has been a success on its own terms; a good repairing job, and no country could have done better outside; meanwhile, a general improvement of the environment has been jeopardised by unsustainability in the economic sector. Now the EU environmental and sustainable policy will be a success by bringing the economic sectors along ("a policy of policies").


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