Ministers, esteemed Members of the European Parliament, elected representatives, ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for inviting me here today. It is a pleasure to be back in Poland.
Let me first of all say that while our discussion today focuses on this country, we must keep in mind that this is a shared challenge for every MS of the European Union.
Climate change does not respect borders, therefore it is only by working together across borders that we will succeed.
The people of Europe are committed to having no further negative impact on climate change after 2050. That is what we signed up for with the Paris Climate Agreement, it affects every EU citizen and every sector of our economy, and there is no exception to this.
The EU has committed to ambitious 2030 climate and energy targets:
- to reduce GHG emissions by 40% by 2030 from 1990 levels;
- to have 32% of renewable energy in our energy mix;
- and to improve energy efficiency by 32,5%.
In rural areas, agriculture and forestry are the key sectors in the transition towards a low carbon and climate friendly economy.
The challenge is to create economic opportunities that reward our farmers and foresters for climate and environment action.
This will not be easy, and it will not happen overnight. But the good news is that the European Commission has a clear, ambitious plan for how to move forward.
Today you are asking the question: How can we develop energy systems to reduce smog in Poland's Rural Areas?
I would argue that the question needs to be answered in two parts. First, how can harmful carbon emissions be reduced in rural areas, particularly in agricultural activity? And second, how can we develop new economic opportunities both on farms and in the broader rural economy that do more for the environment?
Let's look at emissions reduction first. Current EU policies are already working hard to make a difference in this area.
An important element of the Renewable Energy Directive is the bioenergy sustainability policy. This addresses in a coherent and cost-effective way all bioenergy sources and all bioenergy final uses. The aim is to minimise the risk of using biomass from unsustainable production.
The Directive also recognises the potential of using intermediate crops such as catch crops and cover crops for generating additional biomass for energy production. Since growing such crops does not trigger demand for additional land, this is considered an additional source of sustainable biomass.
Increasing the efficiency of bioenergy production systems is the key to ensuring a positive contribution to clean air.
Air pollution is particularly linked to the stock of old boilers used in households. Almost half of EU buildings have boilers installed before 1992, with an efficiency rate below 60%.
The Eco-design requirements which will enter into force in 2020 for solid fuel boilers and local space heaters will ensure the efficiency of new devices. This will make a difference, as air pollution can be lowered through more efficient combustion.
The CAP is also doing its part. The current Rural Development programme supports the supply and use of renewable sources of energy, including by-products, wastes, residues and other non-food raw material.
Both public and private investments totalling around €2.6 billion in renewable energy production and around €2.8 billion in energy efficiency schemes are planned under the Rural Development Programmes. All these investments are having a significant impact on creating new green jobs in rural areas.
Innovation also plays an important role in the development of renewable energy. For example, under the EIP AGRI we have set up a Focus Group on the sustainable mobilisation of forest biomass contributing to the development of the bioeconomy.
Looking to the future, EU policies will do even more to support the transition to a more sustainable and less polluted rural economy.
In December, the Commission will present a Long-term Strategy for the reduction of GHG in line with the Paris Agreement.
Two EU policies in particular will be at the heart of this strategy: the CAP and Horizon Europe.
In our proposal for the future CAP, a new delivery model will offer greater flexibility to Member States and farmers, allowing them to design schemes supporting environmental and climate objectives in line with local conditions and needs. This can be a strong support for your drive to reduce rural smog.
Here is just one example: we know that decreasing the burning of arable stubble reduces air pollution. Our future CAP proposal includes a cross-compliance requirement to ban burning stubble, under the Standards for Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions.
While this GAEC is mostly meant for the maintenance of soil organic matter, it also has a positive effect on lowering air pollution by eliminating the burning of arable stubble.
Another example is the requirement that each farm produce a nutrient management plan. This will lead to improved management of both inputs and outputs, with a strong positive impact on reducing farm emissions.
The new CAP will also support "Coupled Income Support" for non-food products, with the potential to replace fossil material in the bioeconomy.
This is also an opportunity to grow energy crops. There are already several projects, financed through EU funds, exploring the potential of growing such energy crops on marginal land, which further contribute to the sustainable mobilisation of biomass.
There will be a strong emphasis on increasing the uptake of precision agriculture tools to help farmers produce more, using less.
The CAP will work in synergy with Horizon Europe, the successor programme to Horizon 2020, to deliver unprecedented levels of financial support to research and innovation in food, agriculture, rural development and the bioeconomy. Horizon Europe doubled its budget to €10 billion to support these goals.
The bioeconomy's potential to stimulate innovation and sustainability is at the heart of the Commission’s agenda.
According to industry estimates, bio-based industries are projected to generate one million new jobs in Europe by 2030, many of them in rural areas where they are urgently needed.
The bioeconomy also has the potential to make huge contribution to our climate and environment agenda.
Developing a sustainable and circular bioeconomy could turn bio-waste, residues and discards into valuable resources.
Two weeks ago I visited the First2Run project in Sardinia, an integrated biorefinery for dry crops, to see a local example of a successful bioeconomy project.
This is an excellent flagship project ticking many boxes: famers are producing thistle on marginal land, which is a low input crop that grows under arid conditions. They get support from the CAP under agri-environmental measures. The seeds of the thistle can be used for producing oil, and the biomass from the plant can be used to obtain cellulose and hemicellulose.
The refinery has been built on a deserted fossil-oil facility, making it an excellent example of the “re-industrialisation” of rural Europe.
Projects such as this one will lead the way forward in creating new economic opportunities for our farmers and rural communities while reducing emissions and contributing to our Paris ambitions.
I urge Polish authorities to study the future CAP and Horizon Europe proposals closely to identify new opportunities for projects and funding. This can have a direct, positive impact in your goal to reduce smog in rural areas.