European Environment Ministers today (Tuesday, 23 April) concluded 2 busy days of discussions on a range of climate and environment issues at the Informal Environment Council meeting hosted by the Irish EU Presidency in Dublin Castle.
In a broad ranging discussion on the green economy, Ministers highlighted the important growth opportunities arising if Europe successfully transitions to a low carbon, climate resilient and resource efficient economy. Developing the single market for green products and services was the focus of particular attention, based on a recent Communication from the European Commission, but there was also agreement on the need for a broader greening of the European economy, involving consideration of issues such as improved eco-design, eco-innovation, better regulation, greener taxation and improved approaches to waste management. Irish Environment Minister Phil Hogan T.D., who chaired the meeting on behalf of the Irish Presidency, highlighted the importance of integrated and coherent policies for environment and economic development saying “If the EU is to compete effectively in the global marketplace it must prioritise action on encouraging green growth”.
The Commission Communication on Building the Single Market for Green Products in a Resource Efficient Europe which Ministers discussed is designed to address information deficits among European consumers and to make it easy to “buy green”, a timely initiative following on from a recent eurobarometer survey which found that 48% of European consumers are confused by the stream of environmental information that they receive. Commenting on the discussion, Minister Hogan said. “Today, Ministers have broadly welcomed the concepts outlined in the Commission’s proposal to pilot test a new methodology that will make it simpler for consumers and business to understand environmental labelling and information, thereby stimulating the demand for green products and services”,
Ministers also received a presentation on the global perspective on the green economy from Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme. The debate heard Ministers urging effective implementation of the green economy in the context of what was agreed at the Rio +20 Conference held in June 2012. Ministers agreed that sustainability can only be achieved if we can decouple our existing unsustainable patterns of resource use in the developed world while also supporting developing countries in eradicating poverty and transitioning to resource efficient growth. There was a particular emphasis on identifying how the EU could best play a leadership role in advancing the green economy/resource efficiency agenda on the global stage.
On climate change, Ministers exchanged views on the European Commission’s Consultative Communication on the 2015 International Climate Change negotiations and how the EU can work successfully with other Parties and stakeholders to maximise ambition and participation in the new agreement, and how best to use political interaction to build momentum towards concluding an agreement by the 2015 target-date. The Minister acknowledged the value of having such discussions early during the consultation phase and in advance of the first of two negotiating sessions taking place in Bonn at the end of the month on the structure and ambition of the new global climate agreement. “The questions posed in the Commission’s Communication are not easily answered but it is important that we ask these questions, of ourselves, as well as of the other Parties in the UNFCCC. How to share the effort to reduce emissions, how to encourage all Parties to do as much as they can, and what steps need to be taken when to get to where we need to be in 2015 – all of these questions relate to the central need to have a broad-based and implementable agreement, which is applicable to all”, the Minister commented.
The Minister also welcomed the publication last week by the European Commission of the EU Climate Adaptation Strategy. In a further demonstration of the high level of ambition on climate issues during the Irish Presidency, he reaffirmed the intention to move ahead with the start of the Council’s consideration of the strategy in the Environment Working Party later this week, with a view to agreeing Council Conclusions for the June Environment Council in Luxembourg.
The Informal meeting also saw a working lunch take place at which Environment Ministers were joined by Energy Ministers for an initial exchange of political views on the EU Green Paper – A 2030 Framework for Climate and Energy Policies. Following presentation of the Green Paper by the European Commission, Ministers reflected on priorities in formulating a coherent EU climate and energy policy framework for 2030. Central to the discussion was the critical importance of underpinning the innovation and investment necessary to ensure early and cost-effective transition to a competitive, low-carbon and energy secure EU economy in 2050. The Irish Presidency was pleased to provide an early opportunity in the consultation process now underway for Ministers to engage in a constructive debate on the climate and energy policy agenda for the period to 2030, which is such a critical stage in the longer-term pursuit of a safe and sustainable low-carbon future in Europe in 2050.
Minister Hogan also welcomed the vibrant and focused discussion among Ministers on the issue of air quality and the urban environment. Informed by the outputs from the previous week’s Air Science Policy Forum in Dublin and the presentation by Commissioner Potočnik on the Commission’s outline plans for the review of the Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution, the Minister acknowledged the progress made in improving air quality across Europe in recent decades but highlighted the need for further progress in combating certain pollutants, which can have significant impacts on human health and the environment even at levels below current EU thresholds.
“Listening to some of the views and experiences shared, I was struck in particular by the various challenges that we each face, in respect of geographic diversity, proximity to major urban areas and potential sources of air pollution. However, we must also recognise that, while the EU’s Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution is a very important instrument in tackling the issue of air pollution right across the EU, we also have a responsibility and opportunity to complement EU policy with action at local, regional and national levels including through cooperation with our neighbouring Member States, as air pollution is no respector of national boundaries.”, the Minister concluded.