Launch of The European Environment State and Outlook Report 2005

Speech Published 29 Nov 2005 Last modified 16 Oct 2014
Speech by Margot Wallström, Vice-President, Institutional Relations and Communication Strategy, European Commission

Brussels, 29 November 2005

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

Margot Wallström
Vice-President, Institutional Relations and Communication Strategy, European Commission

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is nice to be back among old friends and so many familiar faces.

It is almost a year to the day since I travelled to Copenhagen -- just days after my mandate as Environment Commissioner ended -- to take part in the 10th anniversary proceedings for the European Environment Agency.

At that time, I referred to those working in environmental policy making in Europe as a "policy community".

Since 1994, the Agency has served as an important hub for that community.

And it is a very dedicated and committed community. This is confirmed by the report being launched today.

That is why I was happy to accept when my colleague Stavros Dimas asked me to take his place at this launch of the State of the Environment Report.

The Competitiveness Council is at this moment debating REACH in advance of what may be a final agreement at the meeting on 13 December. As we enter the last stage of negotiations, it remains essential that environmental considerations are taken fully into account - which is why Commissioner Dimas cannot, unfortunately, be here today.

On behalf of the European Commission, I can confirm that the 2005 state and outlook report is an excellent piece of technical work. Its 500 pages give a high resolution picture of the environmental challenges facing the continent. It is the benchmark against which our previous work as environmental regulators can be measured and against which our future efforts will be judged.

But it is - of course - much more than a technical report. The facts tell their own story and I see three clear political messages that come out of this assessment.

The first has already been underlined by Professor McGlade, but it bears repeating - EU environmental policy works.

It is just over 30 years since we launched the first Environmental Action Programme and over that period there have been a number of major achievements.

The report provides as clear a demonstration as could be asked for that the EU's environmental legislation has significantly improved the quality of life of Europe's citizens. This is a success story that we have every reason to be proud of. And this is why opinion polls consistently show overwhelming support for a strong environment policy at the European level.

However, despite this progress the report also provides the compelling evidence that fundamental challenges remain. This is the second political message that the report delivers.

Climate change is already with us and greater efforts are needed - by the EU and by the rest of the world - to minimise the damage and to adapt to the inevitable changes.

The loss of biodiversity is a fact. The impact of human activities means that species are disappearing at somewhere between 50 and 1,000 times the planet's natural extinction rate.

Pollution hotspots remain that not only degrade our environment but that also damage public health. Air pollution alone results in the premature death of 370,000 Europeans - each and every year.

While there has been a relative decoupling from growth and energy/resource use there is still a big scope for improvement. This is especially true for the new Member States. And a lot more work remains to be done in reducing the environmental impact of certain sectors - such as the transport sector which is the fastest growing contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

The third political message, and one of the innovations of the report, is that it explicitly recognises the global dimension of environmental challenges.

On one level this is because many environmental problems are global by nature and need a global response if they are to be tackled. But another consideration is that to feed its growing economy, the EU is responsible for environmental degradation in other parts of the world. According to WWF, with only 7 per cent of the world population, the European Union uses 17 per cent of the planet's regenerative capacity. We use more natural resources than exist in Europe itself and as a consequence our environmental footprint is twice as large as our own continent.

There is also an increasingly clear link between environment degradation and global poverty. Encouraging sustainable development in our international partners will help us meet other external policy objectives - including the Millennium Development Goals.

Europe has a responsibility as a global power to take leadership in addressing these issues. The EU is also the world's most successful model of how sovereign states - by working together - can solve problems that are beyond the reach of any one country working alone. This is a model that I think we should be actively exporting.

Over 500 pages of analysis can be summarised by saying that despite the progress of the last 30 years Europe is not yet on the path towards sustainable development.

At the end of my term as Environment Commissioner I reflected that maybe the biggest challenge of all remained how to explain and make concrete the three pillars of sustainable development.

Further, substantial action is needed and this will be the challenge of the coming years. The detailed actions will have to be worked out by Commissioner Dimas and the rest of the College. But a number of trends are clear.

In some ways we have picked the "low hanging fruit", with the result that the remaining problems — many of which are global in nature —are more difficult to solve.

The seven Thematic Strategies that are being adopted reflect this more prioritised, sophisticated approach and will provide a sound basis to deliver high standards of environmental protection.

It is also clear the surest way to address many of the issues highlighted in the report will be by ensuring the full and intelligent implementation of the policies that have been or are in the process of being adopted. Environmental legislation is too important to allow significant "implementation gaps" to open up.

In conclusion, good policy needs a foundation in good science.

This is why the Agency was set up over 10 years ago - and the quality of the report today shows that its establishment was a far sighted act.

On behalf of the Commission I would therefore like to thank Professor McGlade and all her staff for producing a document that will form the basis for the further development of the Community's environment policy.


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