The wider perspective of the European environment

We often talk of resource efficiency and the low carbon economy, but for continued socio economic progress far more and increased resource efficiency is essential.

Most of the studies by The European Environment Agency are often a gem. Well thought out, clearly explained, free of technical jargon, and easy to digest. Making their wake up call appeals even far more easier to strike home.

The just published State Of The Environment Report is no exception.

The best way to go through it is by first analysing the synthesis report that takes a hard look at the state and outlook 2015 of the environment, as well as its sharp and focused assessment of global megatrends.

We had occasion to discuss this report last week during a highly interesting working lunch in the middle of the EU Environment Ministerial in Brussels that was also attended and addressed by Commissioner Karmenu Vella.

Without resorting to a gloom and doom scenario, while registering its appreciation of the notable successes that environmental policies in Europe registered in the past decades, the report also stressed emphatically how our understanding of the systemic nature of many environmental challenges has evolved, while setting out the environmental policy ambitions meant to address the short, medium and long term.

What is interesting about the report is that while recognising that Europe’s role is shrinking in terms of size and demography within a globalised world and economy its consumption and production patterns will not only impact the European environment but also globally.

As was to be expected the report focused not only on the need for the preservation and conservation of natural capital but also on its enhancement.

The reason being that natural capital underpins the economy, society and human well being.

Even in the introduction to the lunchtime debate the linkage between biodiversity and resilience could not have been spelt out more clearly, the reason being that biodiversity decline and eco system degradation reduce resilience.

As I had occasion to mention, the marine environment calls for a greater focus and attention.

The report mentions this within the context of how marine and coastal biodiversity are declining, while jeopardising increasingly needed ecosystem services.

The call for adaptation measures within a climate context was also made in a timely manner, particularly due to the impact of climate change on both ecosystems and society itself.

We often talk of resource efficiency and the low carbon economy, but for continued socio economic progress far more and increased resource efficiency is essential.

Such an efficiency compounded with greenhouse gas emission reductions are now considered to be strategic priorities. There has been already more efficient material use right across Europe, but despite this positive trend, European consumption remains very resource intensive.

As for waste management its improvement, it is not enough to mitigate the fact that Europe remains far from a circular economy.

In my intervention, given the priority that our government gives to air quality, I emphasised that although one needs to ensure that air quality standards fit within the climate and energy package parameters without increasing bureaucracy or hampering efficiency, nothing must be done that could weaken our resolve in safeguarding people from environmental risks to health. For the simple reason that human well being critically depends on a healthy environment.

The exposure to noise remains a major health concern in urban areas. While risk management needs to be adapted to emerging environment and health issues.

Given that progress towards 2020 targets is mixed, there is no doubt that the 2050 visions and goals in understanding the systemic challenges facing Europe, call for visions and goals that require new efforts.

Politicians’ biggest challenge is not only to ensure that the wider EU policy framework will in reality provide a good basis for an integrated response, but even more so that our actions will actually match words.

Today’s investments must be seen as being essential for effecting long term transitions.

On the other hand expanding our knowledge base remains a pre-requisite for managing such long term transitions.

In my intervention, while stressing that this new report is highly relevant to current and future policies being discussed at the EU level, I posed the following question as to whether the SOER 2015 identifies or not how the recommended fundamental changes in the systems of production and consumption are to be achieved in a diverse Europe, in order to improve the environment, our quality of life, while not impacting negatively on innovation, job creation and growth as well as by also asking whether these recommendations recognise and take on board the diversity of member states.

On transport I highlighted the fact that significant measures are needed if we are to actually reduce carbon emissions by 60% or more by mid century.

There were two summary conclusions that I reached during my contribution to the debate – that there are potential areas that need policy adjustments if we expect or aspire to meet our long term goals, as well as whether after having analysed the SOER 2015 report one can safely say that the report’s findings share the same priorities as the EU policies do in practice, particularly since some organisations have claimed that to date they tend to remain somewhat poles apart.

More in Blogs