Ladies and gentlemen

Thank for you this invitation to speak today on climate change and the circular economy.

One of the great revelations of my first year as European Commissioner for Environment has been the degree of unity there is, when it comes to a switch to a more circular economy.

It is not limited to any sector of society, to any particular Member State, or to any particular industry. It is as though there were something in the air, an idea whose time has now come. All over Europe, and, I suspect, when I see gatherings like this, all around the world, people are tiring of the traditional take-make-consume and dispose.

It isn't traditional, and it certainly isn't natural. And suddenly it is starting to look rather old-fashioned.

The circular economy, by contrast, has an intuitive appeal. It goes back to nature, where nothing is wasted. But the advantages are far greater than that. A circular economy will bring benefits for society, benefits for the climate, and greater benefits for businesses. I know that France has picked on this idea already through legislation on the circular economy.

As I'm sure you are aware, the European Commission has also just adopted some exciting new measures in this area.

Today I would like to highlight some of the climate-related impacts of the new proposal. These are both direct and indirect. Direct, in that Europe will enjoy emissions reductions of between 2 and 4 percent if the waste legislation we are proposing is implemented in full by Member States.

When you consider that here at COP 21, Europe is demanding that global emissions peak in 2020, and are reduced by at least 50% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels, you realise that the world will need many individual measures like these, whose cumulative effect will be far greater than their individual impact. At the same time, our ambitious climate commitments are an incentive to be more circular.

The long-term binding EU targets to recycle 65% or more of our waste by 2030, and to reduce landfilling – still far too prevalent in some parts of the EU – to below 10% will also result in emissions cuts through energy saving. And more cuts will come by reducing methane emissions from landfills. The proposals also make clear that recyclable waste which is separately collected: glass, plastic, paper etc. has no place in landfills.

These longer-term targets will also mean more business certainty. There is little incentive to invest without that certainty; but clear timelines and solid targets should provide the reassurance that investors demand and the ambition that we need.

By concentrating on sectors where there will be noticeable effects, the package delivers tangible wins for climate, environment and competitiveness.

Plastics, including marine litter, the construction sector, raw materials, bio economy, consumption, and product policy are all areas where there are obviously beneficial outcomes.

In practice, it will mean designing products that are more sustainable, last longer, can be re-used, are repairable, and are easy to recycle. It also means encouraging consumers to buy greener, resource-efficient products indicated through eco-labels.

Labels are powerful tools. Our calculations show that by telling consumers how much energy and resources are used by some of the products they buy, we bring about savings that exceed the annual primary energy consumption of Italy. This translates into reduced greenhouse gas emissions of 340 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, more than 7% of total EU emissions in 2010, for example. And close to 500 euros saved each year for the average EU household.

We will also address food waste, jointly with Member States and the private sector, which we need to halve by 2030. Imagine the emissions avoided by not having to produce, transport and refrigerate food which will not be eaten! One of the actions we will take is look into the "best before label" and improve how it is used by producers and understood by consumers. Too often, misunderstanding of the best before label leads to unnecessary food waste in households.

I want to be clear that this package is not simply a wish list. The Commission is looking into setting up a platform with the European Investment Bank and national promotional banks to support greater financing for the circular economy. But we already have the backing we need to make it a reality across the EU.

The Commission will support the package through Horizon 2020, Europe's vast programme for research and innovation, which has now set aside €650 million in the 'Industry 2020 and the circular economy' programme. Other EU Funds will also be mobilised, including 5 and a half billion euros from the regional policy programmes to support investments in waste separate collection and recycling infrastructure until 2020.

Ladies and gentlemen, we also need your help. We need private sector funding channelled towards the new opportunities created by the circular economy. So I would encourage you all today to apply to the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI).

If you are not aware of the details, anyone can submit a request for financing to the EIB for Infrastructure and Innovation investments, or the EIF for SMEs. If you are a project promoter, you can contact the EIB and EIF directly – there is no need to apply through a local authority or government.

Here at the COP, it's easy to believe – or hope – that action by governments will lead the way. Of course they have a crucial role- and the responsibility to act – but let's not imagine that it will ever suffice.

All stakeholders, from big business to individual citizens, have responsibility here. We can all contribute to change. You can make sure your investments are sustainable. You can choose more sustainable consumption practices. It's also about you, ladies and gentlemen, and your decisions.

Let's use this COP to make sure we all make the right long-term choices. The circular economy is an inclusive future for us all.

Thank you for your attention.

 

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