SOER 2010 - presentation by Commissioner Potočnik

Speech Published 02 Dec 2010 Last modified 13 Apr 2011
Speech by EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik at the launch of SOER 2010 in the European Parliament, Brussels, on 30 November 2010.

First, I would like to thank Jackie McGlade and her team at the EEA for the report. 'The European Environment – State and Outlook 2010' is an extensive and invaluable piece of work.

When I look at the report – and don't worry I won't be trying match Jackie's encyclopaedic knowledge of it – I can see the positives, those more mixed results and of course those areas where there is still much for us to do.

I can see where it is coming from – and I see it in the context of the wider environment 'story'.

It also makes me realise how much we've achieved over the last 10 years. Our environmental policies and legislation are the envy of many. Climate change, energy targets, waste, emissions or chemicals are good examples. And after Nagoya, we have managed – at least in principle – to retake some of the ground we lost on biodiversity.

But, without any doubt, there is still much to do because, as the report confirms, the drivers of environmental damage and degradation are still with us.

Our changing world has new environmental challenges…it is a very different landscape from the one of ten years ago and it is one, thanks to SOER, that we know more about than ever.

On the conservation status of our most important habitats and species, in air pollution, especially in our urban areas it is clear we must do better. And we still produce too much waste. We will need to look hard at our existing consumption and production – and use our natural resources more efficiently.

Resources have to be in our focus– because the future will be tough on them. It is estimated that the global population will grow from the current 6 billion to 9 billion by 2050, and we can also expect to see massive growth of the middle classes in emerging economies. Given current trends in consumption, we can imagine what kind of pressure on resources this will mean.

What does this tell me?

It tells me – just as SOER does - that we need new, coherent and implementable policies that recognise the increasingly systemic nature of our environmental challenges.

This is something that is increasingly at the centre of my work – and is also central in the findings of the report - that single issue responses are no longer adequate. Especially given that our environmental challenges are "intertwined".

And because they are intertwined, we have to look at the drivers of environmental damage and the responses to them in terms of the broadest picture possible. This is about integration and coherence, not just between environmental actions, but coherence between 'general polices' that are environmental too.

The saying goes that you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs – and you can't consider environmental policies without thinking about future CAP, CFP, Structural and Cohesion funds, future of EU's research and innovation polices, and of course the debate on next Financial Perspectives.  All of these need to be put in the mix in any discussion of the environmental challenges of next 20 or 30 years.

Our policies will need to be responsive, knowledgeable – and here the report makes it's unique and undeniable contribution to our understanding of the different pressures on the environment. And their links in a picture of increasing complexity. It shows the importance of SOER in gathering greater knowledge about environmental systems. And in pointing out what we don't yet know. For example, in the marine environment, it tells us we need a comprehensive pan-European assessment, because we don't have the data for all European Seas. On land, we need to know more about the relationship between land use and environmental impacts to assess trade-offs between land use and ecosystem services.

We need then to build the integrated policies to meet our common goals. Policies which reflect these inter-linked and accelerating challenges.
This demands from us a new way of thinking and of dealing with the world around us…and specifically a new policy view…one that takes coherence, integration and implementation as requirements from the start.

This is what we have tried to do with EU2020. It has unprecedented level of coherence between policies hard-wired into its policy DNA. EU 2020 is an attempt to build the right conditions for a sustainable and green economy It will be helped both by eco innovation and technological change in the EU and beyond, and by the fact that the 'time to market' for innovations is getting shorter all the time.

We have also beefed up our legislation. The acquis has been improved, with the adoption of the REACH legislation, the Air Quality Directive, the Climate and Energy package or the Industrial Emissions Directive.

There is another new aspect to EU2020 – that of the focus on resources – through the flagship item on resource efficiency. The reason is put best in  report, when you say:

"Past and current production and consumption patterns have underpinned substantial growth in wealth across Europe. However, concerns about the sustainability of these patterns are mounting, particularly regarding the implications related to resource use and over-use."

I said before why resources have to be a focus. We are gradually decoupling our resource growth from resource extraction – yet 'absolute' resource growth and extraction is increasing.

And in Europe we also need to consider how dependent we are on resource imports. We have seen the reports that China recently limited exports of crucial high-tech metals to Japan after a political dispute. This is the kind of geopolitical bickering that can have a real impact on resource availability. We could face greater supply risks though increased competition for land and maybe even water.

That is why I have dedicated so much effort to resource efficiency since becoming environment Commissioner. In 2011 we will be presenting a roadmap for a resource efficient Europe…which I'm hoping will be influential in future environmental policy.

Resources are, I would suggest, one of the major priorities for our future policies. There are, however, other cross-cutting challenges that the report identifies, such as the need to improve communication and public awareness by making consumers more aware of the environmental impact of their choices. I agree with this.

I agree also that we need to better account for changes in the future use of natural capital and to move beyond GDP as the sole measure of well being. Pricing that reflects the true economic, environmental and social value of resources will also be an important instrument in stimulating business and consumer behaviour towards higher resource efficiencies and innovation.

Ladies and Gentlemen

When I read report, I had mixed feelings.

I was both heartened and I must admit – a little taken aback.

I was taken aback at the scale of the challenge, but I was not discouraged. We are not starting from scratch after all and we have already achieved a lot environmentally in the last 10 years.

But what heartened me most was that we are clearly reading from the same script.

I read the report and thought ….this is reassuring….

Resources, governance, integration, implementation and coherence. It is all in SOER, just as it was in my mandate speech to the European Parliament back in January…just as it is in Europe 2020.

I think environmental policy needs to move to a new level. But it's up to us to make the right decisions and the right choices.
The European Environment – State and Outlook 2010 will help us make those choices.

In 2011 we will be looking at an assessment of the 6thEAP. Using what we learn from that we can begin to shape the next generation of environmental policy.

Whatever it looks like, we have to make sure it is stronger, more coherent and tailored to meet tomorrow's challenges.


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