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[Luxembourg 2005 Presidency of the Council of the European Union]
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You are here : Home > News > Speeches > February 2005 > Speech by Lucien Lux, Minister for the Environment at a conference-debate on "The Spring 2005 Summit and the environment in Europe"
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Speech by Lucien Lux, Minister for the Environment at a conference-debate on "The Spring 2005 Summit and the environment in Europe"

Date of Speech : 25-02-2005

Place : Luxembourg

Speaker : Lucien Lux

Competence : Environment

Policy area : Environment Environment

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Luxembourg Presidency is taking place at a key juncture: the mid-term review of the Lisbon Process, the preparation for the review of the Sustainable Development Strategy, reflections on the fight against climate change after 2012 and continued work on the REACH dossier are four of the important projects the Presidency will tackle. 

We hope to be able to lay the ground for the new policies. We will rise to the challenge!

In a moment of doubt on the policies to be undertaken in the face of relentless globalisation, in the face of rising unemployment, and in the face of the deterioration of the environment, it seems to me to be more appropriate, more important and more urgent now than ever to believe in the European model of development, that is sustainable development, synonymous with sustainable economic growth, with social cohesion and with a healthy, natural, humane environment.

The European model of social and environmental responsibility has been a success, and it will be the guarantee of our future prosperity. Europe will be able to become "the most dynamic and the most competitive knowledge-based economy in the world," and this goal will never be realised on the back of human dignity, nor through the waste of natural resources and the deterioration of the environment. Protection of the environment and social cohesion should not benefit from growth alone, but should also make a positive contribution.

The environment and social policy are neither a luxury nor a by-product that can only be paid for with rapid economic growth. No, social equity and the protection of the environment must be an integral part of the new economic spirit we would like to see.

Having said that, I would like to speak for the European citizens who expressed their opinions in a Eurobarometer survey carried out in November 2004. 64% of them think that environmental policy stimulates innovation, and 63% would like see priority given to the environment as opposed to economic competitiveness.

Therefore, we should end the fruitless debate between environment and economy, move beyond it and concentrate on the tremendous synergies that are possible.

The environment is actually a tremendous driver of innovation if you look at it from the point of view of opportunities to be taken instead of focusing on hypothetical risks. I will limit myself to citing three fields of innovation, all with a strong potential to create jobs:

  • The increase in energy efficiency brought about by the introduction of the emissions market and by energy savings measures
  • The modernisation of chemical policy in working towards products that are less toxic or non-toxic
  • The development of a solar future based on renewable energies.

The industry must be pushed to innovate, to open and to create new markets.

It is important to me to express my determination to reconcile vision and pragmatism! It is the means, and not the ends, that must be discussed and evaluated. Let’s avoid useless bureaucracy and excessive regulation, but let’s we also avoid competition based on lowering environmental standards.

On the contrary, ambitious environmental standards can actually provide us with competitive advantages in the future. Europe could move to the forefront by acting first and concentrating on technologies to save resources that emerging countries, such as China, will recognise that they should adopt. I'm thinking in particular of the European automotive industry (diesel cars with particle filters, Euro IV norm,...) which will prove to be, in my opinion, the major leader on the domestic vehicle market thanks to demanding environmental norms.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Environment Council will carry a substantial contribution on 10 March, which should feed the debates that the Heads of State and Governments will have on the Lisbon Strategy, targeting aspects of growth and competitiveness of the European economies.

On this occasion, I will personally see to it that the following message is sent to the Heads of State: ambitious environmental policies, far from constituting obstacles to growth and competitiveness, contribute to the realisation of the Lisbon objectives.

In particular, environmental technologies and environmentally efficient innovations offer possibilities that should be fully exploited.

But we will not stop there!

The synergy between the socio-economic objectives on the one hand and environmental objectives on the other hand will not be limited to environmentally efficient innovation. This also encompasses such concepts as

  1. costs incurred through not taking action: future economic losses related to climate change are estimated to be substantial; in any case, over the long term they     wll be substantially higher than the cost of measures to combat climate change. Münchener Rück estimates the damage caused by extreme events in 2002 led       to losses of €25 billion.  We will invest without hesitation in environmentally innovative and environmentally efficient research that will keep us from having to ay a greater price in terms of environmental damage.
  2. the potential of the public procurement contracts to favour products that do not harm the environmental plan, and not just in the transport and energy sectors but also in construction, electronic products and food
  3. the elimination of subsidies that are not compatible with sustainable development, among others, atomic energy
  4.  make prices fairer to reflect the real cost of the natural resources and the environmental impact, including a partial reorientation of taxes on the labour factor towards pollution of the environment and the utilisation of natural resources, such as the tax on aviation fuel or the introduction of a tax on infrastructures like Eurovignette.

The Sustainable Development Strategy represents over the long term the agreement of different policies centred on a general vision of what is sustainable. The Commission has just presented an initial evaluation and orientations for the future in view of the spring 2005 European Council. The review of the Strategy itself will take place later, probably after the Luxembourg Presidency. But we intend to present a strong political signal. Our Presidency launched the idea of a European charter on sustainable development that will define the general orientations and the guiding principles applied to all the policies of the Union, such as the necessity of delinking economic growth from the utilisation of resources towards the use of sustainable modes of consumption and production, the precautionary principle, global responsibility (north-south aspect),...

In summary, three points seem essential to me in this context of sustainable development. These three points will also enable us to resolve the confusion that reigns between the Lisbon Strategy and the Strategy on sustainable development:

  1. give the Lisbon Process a green touch, by clarifying and even fleshing out the content of its third dimension, which is the environment, and by taking advantage of the synergies which are the economic and social pillars
  2. continue the effort to arrive at the adoption of a revised Strategy on sustainable development while enlarging its field of application to the economic and social pillars and while defining the key objectives in time, especially for the principal of non-sustainable tendencies
  3. strengthen the appropriation and enhance sustainable development based on a European charter on sustainable development that includes ten guiding principles applicable to all the policies of the European Union.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the area of climate change, it is under our Presidency, on 16 February 2005, that the Kyoto Protocol entered into force. Thus the circle has been closed: you may remember that it was also under the Luxembourg Presidency of the European Union that the Kyoto Protocol was adopted on 11 December 1997. For the first time, we have a binding legal framework and an instrument for reducing greenhouse gases in industrialised countries.

But the path is still long, as we know that the protocol is just the beginning in the fight against climate change.

In any case, there is no question about the will of the European Union, but additional measures will be necessary if we are to reach our Kyoto objective.

The global climate is changing. Of this there is no doubt. We have already seen warning signs all around the world: we have had interminable droughts, torrential rains, flooding and terrible storms!

Temperatures could rise from 1.4°C to 5.8°C by the year 2100, with harmful effects on our ecosystems, on food production, on biodiversity, on our economies, and on humanity.

If we just allow the climate to change without undertaking any remedial action, the economic impact and the price that will be paid in terms of human suffering will be dramatic – both in Europe and in the rest of the world, and above all in the least developed countries. If we want to limit irreversible damage, climate change has to be slowed, even stopped. We must therefore act quickly. Mitigation measures are the cornerstone of any battles against climate change. The consequences of inaction are enormous, and it will become increasingly difficult to adapt to climate change.

We should bear in mind that in the near future even more drastic reductions in global emissions of greenhouse gases will be necessary. This means that we need a global approach that should include broad participation by many countries to arrive at a post-2012 (post-Kyoto) framework that is efficient from an environmental and economic point of view, and that is socially equitable, and that takes into account common, but differentiated, responsibilities and the respective capabilities of each country.

For its part, the European Union has reaffirmed that to realise the final objective of the framework convention, the increase in the average annual global surface temperature should not exceed pre-industrial levels by more than 2°C. If this long-term temperature objective is to be realised, global greenhouse gas emissions must peak within two decades and then diminish considerably before falling, by the year 2050, to a level on the order of at least 15%, maybe even 50%, less than those recorded in 1990.

Therefore, Europe has two inseparable objectives:

  1. Make future objectives absolutely clear and unequivocal
  2. Broaden the participation of countries.

The European Council of Heads of State and Government will also have the opportunity, in their March meeting, to consider strategies and future objectives for the reduction of greenhouse gases.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

REACH is another important example of what the new type of European policy will be within the framework of the Lisbon process, based on an integrated and balanced approach between the three pillars of sustainable development - environmental protection, social cohesion and competitiveness - of our economies. It is for this reason that the REACH dossier is one of the priorities of the Luxembourg Presidency.

Our objective is to improve the protection of the environment and human health while respecting competitiveness and the spirit of innovation of the European chemical industry in general and for downstream users, in particular the SMEs. Apart from competitiveness and the environment, the major concern of the discussions and consultations is to arrive at a practicable system that prevents excessive bureaucracy ("workability" of the approach).

The Luxembourg Presidency intends to base its efforts on the positive results of the preceding Presidencies, which have already identified certain key questions. In fact, since January 2005 the Ad Hoc Chemical Products Group has already exhaustively examined Titles IV and V as well as the related annexes. In addition, an in-depth examination of Titles VI-VIII of REACH is planned for the Ad Hoc Group during the coming months.

An in-depth examination in the political discussion within the Competitiveness Council as well as within the Environmental Council is planned for 6 June and 24 June 2005, respectively. Certain critical points and open questions related to the practicability of REACH, above all for the SMEs, need to be analysed during our limited workshop of 10-11 May 2005 in Luxembourg.

Before concluding, one more word on the regulation proposal on the financing instrument for the environment (LIFE +). 

The Luxembourg Presidency expects to reach a political agreement on this regulation proposal this coming June, when it also expects to conclude negotiations on the new financial perspectives. In any case, as far as I'm concerned, a political agreement on financing is inconceivable except under the three following conditions:

  1. sufficient budget financing for the environment
  2. the right of scrutiny of those responsible for the environment as regards both the eligibility of beneficial activities and methods of financing
  3. the guarantee of financial support for all environmental activities in which the acquis in the area of the human and natural environment should be preserved and developed, in particular as concerns Natura 2000.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I can assure you that the Luxembourg Presidency will be led by a two-fold focus: preserving the environmental dimension while better integrating it into the sectoral decisions and policies, as well as allowing the human component to prevail, especially in linking civil society to the decision-making process.

Thank you for your kind attention.

This page was last modified on : 28-02-2005

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