Happens now in Brussels: Green Week sets the EU and global climate policy agenda

green week Janez Potočnik

Participation of Janez Potočnik, Member of the EC in charge of the Environment, at the opening session of Green Week 2014 (EC Audiovisual Services)

Brussels is all green this week. The eyes of Europe are focusing these days on the Egg Centre, where the 2014 edition of the Green Week is taking place. The conference centre in Rue Bara is hosting the biggest annual event on European environmental policy, whose theme this year is “Circular Economy, Resource Efficiency and Waste”. How can we turn waste into resources and jobs? How can we break our reliance on new materials? How can we re-use, re-manufacture and recycle? How can we change the way we produce and consume? These are the main issues that are being addressed at this year’s Green Week.

A circular economy is the logical solution for a resource-constrained world, where the re-use and the re-manufacturing of products is a standard practice. The aim of the conference is to generate ideas on how to use more efficiently the resources the EU has and, most importantly, to help the Commission set out new proposals enabling Europe to unlock the potential of the circular economy in 2014.

Green Week comes at a moment where the debate on environmental issues and the role the EU is playing, or it is supposed to play, in order to reach the goals of CO2 reduction, is truly intense. It’s now clear 2014 will be a decisive year for the future policies on these matters.

On 14 May, when the media were focused on another major event in Brussels, the European Business Summit, good news was released. IN a meeting of the EU environment ministers we were notified that the European Union will cut its carbon emissions in 2020 by a bigger margin than it has pledged it would under the United Nation climate change treaties. “Europe will be overachieving in 2020”, Hans Bruyninckx, Executive Director of the European Environment Agency said after presenting the latest findings of his organisation to ministers and European Commission officials in Athens. The EU has unilaterally pledged under the UN Kyoto Protocol for Climate Change to reduce its emissions to 20% below 1990 levels by 2020. Many analysts and officers recently revealed that the bloc has already almost met that target and so expects to beat it by the year 2020. “For the year 2020, total emissions are projected to be 24.5% below base year levels,” it was said in a document submitted to the UN on 30 April.

Environmental campaigners welcomed the lower EU emissions but said this was no substitute for setting deeper targets. Many scientists also urged the EU to continue its leadership in tackling climate changes and stimulating the rest major economies to also do so. The EU has long been the driver of the world’s ambition on tackling climate change. Although not always continuous, the Union’s commitment and overall record has been a model to others worldwide. It is well known that its leadership has created the space for other countries, such as the world’s most developed countries. And we believe this is something to be proud of. That’s also most likely what everybody expects from Europe. But is the EU still a real green leader? This might be the right week to answer this question.

Europe now has the chance to demonstrate that this leadership has not been worn out by time and most of all by the economic crisis. 2014, a crucial year for green policies brings a big challenge, called the “2030 Policy Framework for Climate and Energy” proposal. The European Commission explains that the framework, which was presented last January and agreed in March, in a crucial week for the EU’s environmental policies, seeks to drive continued progress towards a low-carbon economy. “It aims to build a competitive and secure energy system that ensures affordable energy for all consumers, increases the security of the EU’s energy supplies, reduces our dependence on energy imports and creates new opportunities for growth and jobs”, the European Commission states. A decision on the framework will be taken at the latest by the coming October.

A central piece of the framework is the target to reduce by 2030 the EU domestic greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below the 1990 level. This target will ensure that the EU is on the cost-effective track towards meeting its objective of cutting emissions by at least 80% by 2050. Most importantly, the Commission claims that “by setting its level of climate ambition for 2030, the EU will also be able to engage actively in the negotiations on a new international climate agreement that should take effect in 2020”.

This basically shows that the EU is eager to keep its global green leadership, although we must say that the feeling around the framework is somehow mixed. In times of economic crisis there’s ‘a bit more’ detachment on this kind of agreement. BusinessEurope, which has long argued against ambitious environmental targets, warned that “the overall level of ambition for a 2030 greenhouse gas reduction target is only realistic if a binding international climate agreement can be concluded in 2015. We urge the European Commission and the European Council to make sure that Europe will not be once again a lone frontrunner without followers”.

In a letter written to the President of the European Commission Barroso last January, BusinessEurope’s President Emma Marcegaglia and Director General Markus J. Beyrer highlighted as “essential” that the forthcoming Commission proposals on industrial competitiveness and the 2030 energy and climate policy are developed in a “consistent and complementary manner”. The letter openly asked President Barroso to “ensure that the climate and energy package is fully compatible with the need of strengthening our industries and restoring Europe as a place for industrial investment”.

It’s still not known how the framework will see the light, but we are pretty sure that the balance will consider the businessmen’s advice accurately.

In this delicate moment, no chance for discussion may be underestimated. All the events and meetings that will follow from here to the next fall will be decisive. All in all in this crucial year for the global environment Green Week can be an important stage to discuss this primordial topic and to take the next step for better strategic environmental policies.

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