Stavros Dimas Member of the European Commission, responsible for environment ENVIRONMENTAL PRIORITIES FOR 2009 European Parliament Environment Committee Strasbourg, 19 May 2008. - EU monitor

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Source: European Commission (EC), published on Tuesday, May 20 2008.

Stavros Dimas

Member of the European Commission, responsible for environment

ENVIRONMENTAL PRIORITIES FOR 2009

European Parliament Environment Committee

Strasbourg, 19 May 2008.

Mr Chairman, Honourable members,

Thank you for inviting me to come and present to the Committee our environmental priorities for 2009.

This is a timely meeting: we have seen from the recent Eurobarometer that 96% of Europeans attach a high importance to the protection of the environment and consider that it has a great impact on their quality of life. The figures are highly motivating, and they underline the heavy responsibility we bear.

In the last four years we have taken significant steps towards improving our environment and enhancing the quality of life for European citizens. The EU has led the global fight against climate change and set new greenhouse gas and renewable targets for 2020. Important pieces of environmental legislation have been adopted, such as the REACH Regulation, the floods Directive, the Regulation on waste shipments, the recently adopted Air Quality Directive and the continued expansion of the Natura 2000 network. The Commission has made new proposals and has generated improvements in the areas of the environment where citizens have great concerns, including the fight against climate change, air and water pollution, and civil protection.

This progress would not have been possible without a close co-operation between the Commission and your Committee. But adopting the necessary legislation is just the first step. Environment policy objectives will not be attained if the measures are not fully and effectively implemented and enforced. The ENVI Committee recognised this in its report on the 6th Environment Action Programme, calling for adequate resources to be made available for implementation and we are grateful for that.

The Commission is fully aware of the need to focus on improving the implementation of current EU environment legislation, and will therefore make this a key priority for 2009. This requires us to pay attention to a number of specific issues.

The first of these is halting biodiversity loss in Europe by 2010 and significantly reducing global biodiversity loss world-wide. This will not be achieved without significant additional action to implement the Biodiversity Action Plan that the Commission adopted in 2006. Climate change, agricultural and urban expansion and human population growth are accelerating the extinction of species (at least 100 times faster than the natural rate), a process exacerbated by the degradation of natural ecosystems, with two-thirds of eco-system services now in decline. This is a major challenge, but one where there is significant public support for EU action.

The negative social and economic impacts of biodiversity loss and declining eco-system services are already being felt, and the continuation of economic activities such as agriculture, fisheries, tourism, timber and paper industries in some parts of Europe is now at risk. The European Commission will therefore prioritise the correct enforcement of Natura 2000 legislation and the implementation of the Biodiversity Action Plan. The Mid-term Report to be adopted this year will provide clear ideas on additional actions to be undertaken in 2009 to achieve the right objectives.

Secondly, 2009 is a crucial year for Climate Change policy, as we edge towards agreement at the Copenhagen conference at the end of the year. Implementing and strengthening our existing policies is important if we are to demonstrate our commitment to ambitious reductions in greenhouse gas emissions after the end of the first Kyoto period. To feed into this process, the Commission will communicate its views on the road to Copenhagen in a Communication to be presented at the beginning of next year.

The measures in the Climate Action and Renewable Energy package are crucial for the EU's credibility and our continued leadership in international climate negotiations. The package provides the legal instruments to reach the greenhouse gas and renewable targets set by the European Council in March 2007. As you know very well by now, the package contains proposals for an improved and extended EU emissions trading system, for sharing the effort of greenhouse gas reductions in sectors not covered by the EU ETS between Member States, and proposals on carbon capture and storage and on renewable energy sources.

The European Parliament and the Council now face the challenging task of reaching a timely agreement on this package. Two things will be very important in this respect.

Firstly, we must ensure that the proposals are not watered down during the legislative process. Any lack of ambition in the final text would undermine the EU's leadership role and would weaken our position in the negotiations on a new global agreement.

Secondly, the package must be adopted on time and in any case before the European Parliament elections in June next year. Any failure here will mean that the new parliament would have to restart the co-decision procedure, delaying the adoption until 2010 or later. This would leave us very little time to implement in particular the revised EU ETS before the start of the third phase in 2013 and would in turn also damage our external credibility. I am convinced that I can count on the support of this Committee to ensure timely adoption and an ambitious result.

We also need to take further measures to address greenhouse emissions from transport, particularly freight transport. Road and maritime transport alone account for the highest volume of transport greenhouse gas emissions. While emissions from light duty vehicles are currently being addressed, heavy duty vehicle emissions - currently growing at around 2% per year - still need to be tackled. After road transport, shipping has the next highest greenhouse gas emissions. After the recent IMO agreement (to be ratified in October) to reduce maximum levels of sulphur content of shipping fuel and to further limit nitrous oxide from ships, the Commission is confident that measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ships will also be taken on board by the IMO. However, if there is no significant progress towards a global agreement, the Commission will present proposals for adoption in 2009.

Finally, in parallel with the mitigation of climate change, our capacity to cope with its harmful effects needs to be strengthened. 'Adaptation' is a horizontal issue which cuts across many policies including agriculture, tourism, regional development and others besides. We need to better identify the effects of climate change and put in place new measures to minimise the negative impacts. The reports of the International Panel on Climate Change have warned that Climate Change will increase the frequency and intensity of natural disasters, such as the cyclone that recently struck Burma. Adaptation means being better prepared to cope with these phenomena, and increasing our civil protection and response capacities. Following this year's Communications on Disaster response capacities and on an integrated strategy on disaster prevention, the Commission will consider the need for new proposals in 2009 in the areas of prevention, preparedness, response and recovery.

The 2009 Annual Policy Strategy of the Commission states that a "low-emission and a resource-efficient economy" are long-term challenges for the EU. We are on track towards lowering emissions. But we are still a long way short of developing a truly resource-efficient economy.

The EU's share of the global ecological footprint is disproportionate, and we use many more resources - including land, water and raw materials - than are needed in order to satisfy our requirements. We also generate far too much waste. Average material intensity is twice as high in the EU as it is in Japan, and it is estimated that the EU could save at least 20% of its current energy consumption through improved efficiency measures.

Resource efficiency has the potential to significantly reduce the pressures on the environment - but there are also economic considerations. Many resources are scarce and European economies would benefit from intelligent manufacturing practices that use resources in a more rational manner.

This is an issue that citizens care about. According to a recent poll, 75% of Europeans are prepared to buy environmentally friendly products even if they cost a little bit more. But at the same time, only 17% of Europeans go a step further and actually purchase green products on a regular basis. Information on environmentally friendly products is still scarce and there are not enough green products on the market. The main challenge is therefore twofold: to encourage business to continuously improve the environmental performance of their products, and to better inform European citizens so that they can take environmental concerns into account when making purchasing decisions.

To address these issues the Commission has been working closely with producers, retailers and consumer groups in order to find ways in which to reduce over-consumption. In the next weeks we will launch a Sustainability Package which will propose a systematic approach to improving the energy and environmental performance of products. Minimum requirements will be established and periodically reviewed for the most environmentally damaging products. At the same time, the best performing products should be able to benefit from incentives such as Green Procurement.

In 2009, the actions proposed by the Sustainable Consumption and Production Action Plan should be put in place, including the adoption of implementing legislation and the setting of product requirements and benchmarks.

Mr Chairman, Honourable members,

In recent years we have established priorities, set out far-reaching objectives, adopted concrete measures to protect our environment and enhance the quality of life. We have made sustained progress that was unimaginable a decade ago.

For 2009, the key message is that timely implementation of existing legislation is vital and there is a need to 'encourage' Member States that are lagging behind in one area or another. The forthcoming Communication on the Implementation and Enforcement of EC environmental law will provide new tools and strategies to improve matters. The 2009 revision of the Recommendation on minimum criteria for environmental inspections will likewise be instrumental in strengthening the criteria of environmental inspections.

As our scientific awareness grows, so does our awareness of the fragility of the planet. Many challenges remain and new ones continue to emerge. They must be addressed - in a firm and practical way - because deforestation, biodiversity loss, excessive waste volumes, fresh water pollution and rising greenhouse gas emissions are not features of the world that we should leave as a legacy for future generations.

2009 is the last year of the mandate of this Commission and of this Parliament. Let's make the most of it.