The director general of the European Commission’s environment directorate, Karl Falkenberg, was the guest speaker at UKELA’s 2012 Garner Lecture hosted kindly by Clifford Chance. It was wonderful to hear a positive, informed European who as an economist, previously in charge of trade, exquisitely married up the environment with sustainable economic growth.
Coinciding with the day on which the 7th EU Environmental Action Programme was proposed, Karl Falkenberg said that “regulation should set the parameters for innovation, rather than innovation followed by regulation”. This Action Plan know as “Living well, within the limits of our planet”, will guide environment policy up to 2020. With a long term strategic vision based on outcomes it aims to link jobs and economic growth with the environment.
This Action Programme is about integration of the environment into other policies, implementation, investment and resource efficiency so we can live “within the limits of our planet”. It is about stimulating growth, but a new quality of growth where resources are use efficiently and policies such as recycling creates thousands of jobs and scrap computers provide more gold than the mining some areas in Africa.
It seems that all studies show that EU consumers are Catholics. They promise something on a Sunday but find it hard to follow up during the week explaining why the market for environmental products is less than 1pc. A way has to be found to integrate resource efficiency into mainstream economics and trade within the EU. The emphasis on the low carbon economy and strong investment in research to secure the knowledge base are both prime contenders. Environmentally harmful subsidies are going to be phases out, taxation is to move from labour to pollution and bad health due to poor air quality is also to be tackled.
The issues with poor or inconsistent implementation were highlighted by Mr Falkenberg. He relayed that transposing environmental directives was “problematic”. That the flexibility provided by Directives resulting in over 500 MS infractions, or infringement proceedings, per year is not cost efficient nor serves environmental protection. Not only is there a proposal for Regulations to substitute Directives as a tool for EU environmental regulation, but an inspection capacity will be introduced to address serious concern. So Member States need to become much more alert to their responsibilities but may through this initiative find that duplication of work is avoided, cost saved and that we have greater integration of environmental law.
So watch this space as in the summer of 2012 we are to expect a report from the “European Resource Efficiency Platform” where more specific recommendations and the first priorities will be set out as to how to best migrate to a more resource efficent economy. There is also a Resource Efficiency Financing Roundtable in the making which will look at the barriers to environmental investments and drive action in this arena.
For me this is the first time that we are actually getting it when it comes to environmental concerns and the economy – it has to be about resource efficiency and limitation tackling consumerism at a different angle. This is what I call real progress at a time of economic austerity.
Whilst I was hearing Mr Falkenberg speak I did think “alleluia!”. Now I hope from the heart, even as an EU catholic, that we can all manage to keep the focus and the momentum to make the transition to a resource efficent economy.