We have to make products that are reusable and recyclable, use less energy, raw materials and water | WWF

We have to make products that are reusable and recyclable, use less energy, raw materials and water

Posted on 26 June 2013    
Janez Potočnik, EU Commissioner for the Environment
© EU Commission
European Commissioner for the Environment Janez Potočnik speaks exclusively to WWF after our 'Saving resources: Moving towards a resource-efficient, green economy in the Danube Region' conference in Bulgaria.

What is the impact of the current financial and economic situation on the development of the European green economy?

Green economy is moving but of course there are still forces which sometimes try to protect the unprotectable. It’s really important to understand that Europe is a densely populated continent. The predominant part of industrial activity is still resource-based. We are still for example landfilling 3 tonnes per person per year.

What we also see is a steep increase in the resource prices. For example, from 1998 to 2011 it is overshooting 300% and 87% of European companies are expecting in the next 5 years to face additional increases.

Already today in the cost structure, costs connected to resources are much higher than costs connected to labour. That’s why lots of companies are already today re-focusing their innovation potential from addressing labour productivity to capital productivity.

We are very much an interdependent continent. We not only import 60% of our energy, which according to estimates of International Energy Agency will overshoot in the next decades by 80%, but we are also importing lots of raw materials – 6 times more than what we export.

If you put all those elements together, the solution is pretty simple. We have to produce products that satisfy the needs of our consumption but use less energy, raw materials and water. We have to produce them so that they are reusable and recyclable. This is actually the best way to improve our competitiveness and keep the industry in Europe. This should be heard loudly and clearly especially in these crisis times, because this is one of the answers which exists here and now.

Of course, we have to deal with macroeconomic questions - how to remedy the financial situation, how to renew the capacity of the banks so that they finance again everything that is correct. But ignoring this part of the structural changes which I have already mentioned, would be a major mistake.

In what ways can business be encouraged to invest in a green economy?

I meet quite a lot of business representatives. The progressive part of business certainly understands the challenges the same way that I have already explained.

Of course, each transition will have winners and losers. We have to put our attention to the losers and organize a just transition to minimize the number of losers and maximize the number of winners. All the incentives that we give to the public sector should be consistent with that kind of approach and philosophy.

Sometimes NGOs feel that the EU is providing funds to protect, say, the network of Natura 2000 sites but at the same time is providing funds for infrastructure in the same area which will actually destroy these habitats. How do we strike the balance?

You have put this dichotomy in a brutal way because in essence you can have both if you organize yourself properly. We should absolutely invest in protecting the Natura 2000 network.

We are now in a phase when we have developed the network - now we have to focus on management and funding. But on the other hand we also need renewable energy to get the answers that we all know are fundamental for addressing climate change.

While doing that, we have to absolutely respect the needs connected to Natura 2000. We don’t have automatic exclusion of economic projects inside Natura 2000 but legislation is clear that whatever economic activity is done, it should be done in a way that is not hampering the habitats which are protected by Natura 2000.

They are protected because they are disappearing and we have to take care that they continue to exist. That’s why we have issued guidelines that are reconciling the economic interest of renewable energy development but on the other hand protecting the Natura 2000 sites.

How to make sure that governments follow the guidelines?

It’s in their interests – they should do that. If they will not ,there will be inspections and civil society is looking at that and, of course, the European Commission is looking at that too.

Bulgaria is one the EU countries with a higher number of EC infringement procedures because of violations of environmental EU law.

Bulgaria is in the 8th place with 15 infringement procedures currently open. I would not say that the situation is dramatic, but it certainly needs important attention.

The majority are not connected to the transposition - which Bulgaria has done quite well - but to the implementation into practice. Bulgaria is a country where infrastructure development is still needed.

How to reconcile this with the beautiful nature is one of the most important things to focus your attention. Nature is something that you should see as a major benefit. As you are proud of cultural heritage, you should be proud of natural heritage.

You protect your richness which the other countries don’t have. But you should take care of waste water treatment and drinking water.

All the infringement procedures we have are connected with the fact that you are not using efficiently the cohesion and structural funds. I would urge you to increase capacity to use this money because it’s mainly connected with infrastructure which is otherwise expensive to build.
Janez Potočnik, EU Commissioner for the Environment
© EU Commission Enlarge

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