Launch of The European Environment State and Outlook Report 2005

Speech Published 29 Nov 2005 Last modified 16 Oct 2014
Speech by Professor Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director, European Environment Agency

Brussels, 29 November 2005

Launch of
The European Environment State and Outlook Report 2005
European Parliament

Professor Jacqueline McGlade
Executive Director, European Environment Agency

Mr Florenz, Vice-President Wallström, Distinguished guests, Let me start with three words. They are small words, but they are unambiguous: Environment policy works!,

There is of course scope for improving policy -- and I will address this in a moment. But the environment policy decided in these chambers delivers real improvements in the environment and helps safeguard the health of European citizens.

This is the third state and outlook report on the European environment produced by the European Environment Agency since we became operational in 1994. Looking back, the last report, published in 1999 concluded that environmental quality in the European Union was mixed.
We also concluded that the unsustainable development of some key economic sectors was the major barrier to further improvements.
Six years on, these remain our key conclusions:

  • 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.

But let us imagine for a moment a Europe in which there was no environmental policy.
What would the European environment look like then?

  • Lead would still be being pumped into the air from much of our car fleet.
  • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) would have further depleted the ozone layer.
  • Nitrogen oxide emissions from road transport would be 10 times higher.
  • The life in our rivers, lakes and estuaries would still be choked by effluent, not to mention the disgusting prospect of bathing in coastal waters polluted by sewage.
  • Increasing swathes of land would be eaten up by expanding landfills for waste -- or alternatively, the incinerators set up to deal with the waste, would not be operating to such strict standards.

The list would go on and on.

And what would the impact of all this be on the health of Europe's citizens?

As it is, Europe loses 200 million working days a year to air pollution-related illness alone.

Imagine how much higher this figure would have been in the absence of environmental controls.

So the legislation works ..... when it is fully implemented and enforced.

The European Environment Agency does not police the legislation. That task falls to others.

Our primary objective is to provide the facts -- to report on the state of the environment in Europe.

We believe that the facts we provide in the report being launched today can make a difference.

Were we to fast-forward thirty years, it would be my strong hope that we would be able to report significant environmental improvements, not least as a result of reversing unsustainable trends in sectors such as energy, agriculture and transport.

Within this period, the EU intends to deliver on the Lisbon Strategy. Against this backdrop, environmental initiatives are being scrutinised as never before. The Agency has a key role to play when environmental policy is under such pressure.

In formulating policy today, Europe also has an obligation to look beyond 2010 and beyond its own borders. The EU sustainable development strategy, which is about to be reviewed, must look beyond Lisbon.

Europe cannot continue down the path of achieving its short-term objectives by impacting disproportionately on the rest of the world's environment through its ecological footprint.

Europeans' consumption may be half of that of people living in the USA, but it is double that of people living in Brazil, India and China.

Policy makers must be farsighted and integrated in their thinking.

We need a gradual shift away from taxes on labour and investment towards taxes on pollution and the inefficient use of materials and land.

We also need reforms in the way that subsidies are applied to transport, housing, energy and agriculture.

We need subsidies encouraging sustainable practices and efficient technologies.

The report we are launching today highlights five messages for policy makers:

  • that environmental protection and economic growth go hand in hand;
  • that prevention works better than cure.
  • that many environmental problems stem from incorrect pricing of what we consume at the time we consume it.
  • that the tools of the market can provide incentives to bring about some of the very necessary behavioural changes; and,
  • as the EEA has shown in some of its earlier reports, that the cost of inaction can be many times the cost of sensible preventive measures.

It seems that these lessons need to be repeated again and again if we are to avoid problems such as acid rain, the collapse of our fish stocks or the use of asbestos in buildings.

In conclusion, we have made major steps forward but key challenges remain:

  • climate change remains our top challenge -- an important message to underline as talks get underway in Montreal this week;
  • we are losing biodiversity at an alarming rate;
  • marine ecosystems are under pressure as are our land and water resources;
  • air pollution is still causing health problems; and,
  • we must ensure that the chemicals we introduce in to the environment are safe.

Many of our environmental problems are rooted in the way we use our land, the way we trade and the way we consume.

The Agency will continue to play its part by providing the facts.

We are grateful to the European Parliament -- and in particular to Mr Karl-Heinz Florenz -- for co-hosting this launch and helping us to launch this report here today.

By coming to the heart of the Parliament to launch the five year report, we are signalling our intention to provide the right kind of information to the right people.

Europe is well placed to lead the way by creating a smarter, cleaner, more competitive and more secure European society.

The European public believes that environment protection policies are an incentive for innovation and not an obstacle to economic performance. The evidence in the State and Outlook Report 2005 shows that they are right.

Thank you for your attention.

I look forward to responding to any questions or comments that you may have.


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