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Eco-innovation key to meeting 2020 targets

24/01/2011

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Resources for eco-innovative research must be reinforced to provide the green technologies to meet EU 2020 targets, says Roland Moreau of the Belgian federal Directorate-General for Environment

Roland Moreau is Director General for the Environment at the Belgium Federal Public Service for Health, Food safety and Environment. Since 2003 he has been Chair of the Belgian Co-ordination Committee for International Environmental Policy which groups the four Belgian ministers of the environment – three regional plus federal.

What were Belgium’s environmental priorities during its 2010 EU presidency?

Climate and biodiversity were obviously at the top of the agenda but we also had ‘specific’ Belgian priorities. Minister Schauvliege dedicated the informal Council of July to the first one called ‘sustainable materials management and sustainable production and consumption: a contribution to a resource-efficient Europe’. This includes the vision of a circular economy with technology innovation as well as sustainable production and consumption which is systemic. We therefore worked hand in hand with Commissioner Poto─Źnik who is going to come in 2011 with his flagship initiative on a resource-efficient Europe. Our second specific priority was on improving environmental policy instruments. We want to stress the necessary enforcement of the existing tools and legislation. At the same time, like 25 of the Member States, we want a seventh European environmental action programme (EAP). As the Commission is reluctant for such a legal and formal instrument, this remains controversial.

The main action was to explain and reconcile these different views. We had very open discussions with Karl Falkenberg, Director General of the Environment DG, at the Environmental Policy Review Group (EPRG) level. If the Commission does not like the format of a seventh EAP, it has to come up with an alternative that guarantees the environment can be integrated into the other sectoral policies. The Commission – and probably also the UK – believe that this can happen and the circumstances are right for integration into the other policies. The view of the 25 Member States is a little more ‘realopessimistic’. This is why we have to fight for a very strong environmental programme to build bridges towards the other sectors. Integration will be complete when we will see quantified environmental objectives incorporated into the other major strategic sectoral policies. This will ensure real integration of the environment – and the greening of the economy.

Is this going to happen realistically?

I hope so. At a minimum, we want the links to be stressed and put in perspective between the various flagship initiatives – not the case currently and why we fully support the flagship initiative of Commissioner Poto─Źnik in order to achieve this. Initiatives such as the ‘Innovation Union’ and ‘New skills and jobs’ have to be coordinated and reinforce each other – and this is missing. I think it is one of the weaknesses of the 2020 strategy because it is supposed to be a strategy towards sustainability with synergies between the three pillars of sustainable development – but you need to see this at all levels. As a priority, research should be for eco-innovation. We must stop all environmentally- harmful support – subsidies towards research that could lead to environmentally damaging results. I do not think it makes sense to go on financing coal for example. A low-carbon economy will never be guaranteed by carbon capture and storage. This is an end-of-pipe solution and we have to develop solutions at the source – going for energy efficiency and renewable energy. This has to happen in a massive way otherwise we will never meet the 2020 or 2050 targets.

How does this work in the new Trio approach?

We were the first in the Trio – the three successive EU presidencies Spain, Belgium, Hungary – to work fully under the spirit of the new treaty. The 18- month programme has been prepared together. Spain started in co-operation with us and we will keep on working with the Hungarians. We are all three fully on the same track for better instruments and the seventh EAP. Everything related to sustainable materials management will be followed through by our Hungarian colleagues. We need to work hand in hand. If confrontation may be good to generate ideas, it can hardly lead to building bridges and promoting integration. In the same way, we pushed the 9th ETAP forum on financing the eco-innovators, in Brussels at the end of November 2010. We consider it a good idea to insist on people rather than on processes and we support the Belgian initiative for a network of eco- innovators, mainly SMEs, an initiative somewhat outside the financing streams. We have to work on clusters and networking and we support the idea of round tables among eco-innovators in 2011, with the view of a major event on that topic around the time of the 10th ETAP forum on resource efficiency in Birmingham. The first round tables will have been held in four or five countries – probably Belgium, France, UK and Ireland which are the most progressive. Belgium will have strong delegation in Birmingham to ensure continuity.