Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished panellists, welcome to Green Week.
Thank you Frist Vice-President, Frans, for your kind words.
I want to start my first Green Week by following on from Frans theme of integration.
For decades nature has been regarded as an impediment to economic progress – often seen as an interference to our industrial ambitions. Misunderstood, underestimated and taken for granted. We are now starting to comprehend the extent of our miscalculation. The idea of nature and the economy as rivals was wrong.
We know now that nature cannot be regarded simply as another competing factor standing in the way of human aspiration. Nor is it an inhibitor to what we might tend to consider as 'economic progress'.
But nature and the economy simple in balance is also wrong. Balance implies opposite poles.
Our challenge today is how to move to the integrated approach. An economy that builds on natures strengths and a natural environment that is a source of sustainable wealth. That is the aim.
From daily household decisions on whether we see any scope in waste separation, to weighing in the costs in design of new industrial infrastructures, we urgently need a shift in mindset from "balance to integration", "aware to active care", "remedial to preventive" and from "conservation to enrichment".
This challenge is what I hope will be the subject of extensive debate and inspiration over the next three days.
To get the debate going it is with great pleasure that this year we have invited several youth representatives to share their stories on how nature matters to them and how they work with and for nature. Young or old, you are all welcome to attend the Green Week Youth Forum Thursday evening.
As just explained by the First Vice President, we find ourselves in the middle of an important sequence of events where the Commission is currently hard at work to finish the homework we have set ourselves.
Following on from the State of the Environment report referenced by Frans, we published the State of Nature Report. As you know, this assessed the state of species and habitats protected under the Birds and Habitats Directives. The results were mixed, with some worrying trends but some clear evidence that our polices can work. But we need more and more or have policies that work.
We will now continue with our intensive stocktaking of our biodiversity policy with the mid-term review of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020. We will take stock of progress towards our target of halting the loss of biodiversity in the EU, restoring ecosystems and addressing global biodiversity loss. Many of you will have the chance to look at progress to date and gaps to be addressed, at a dedicated workshop here tomorrow.
I believe that it will be key to go beyond the simplicity of a "hit or miss" approach. Our citizens need to know – our politicians need to know – and our businesses need to know, the full cost of any shortcomings.
We depend on nature. Forests purify our air, and healthy floodplains purify the water we drink. Industrial alternatives to water purification are energy intensive ultimately costing consumers more money. Up to 50% of our prescription medicines use naturally occurring substances from plants. Without natural ecosystems like coastlines, much of our tourism would simply wither away. A growing number of studies show how patients recover faster when they can physically interact with nature. Ecosystems regulate our climate, and provide us with clean air – without which, we would have to fork the bill through higher medical expenses and insurance policies. And our food depends on healthy soil and services such as pollination from insects which are increasingly rare. The value of insect pollination services alone has been estimated at 15 billion Euros per year in the EU. Nature is giving us all this and loads more. Without ever sending a bill. Let me repeat something which I hope we are all convinced of – "we need nature, more than nature needs us". However, if we treat nature good, it will treat us better. But if we treat nature badly, it will betray us.
This means that when we lose our biodiversity, it is not just a few species or habitats where few people live that disappear. It has direct and lasting consequences for human society – and a cost to our economy of a magnitude we are only just starting to comprehend. Initial conservative estimates indicate that failure to halt the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services by 2020 could cost the EU economy around 50 billion Euros per year.
These are some of the warnings why we need an integrated approach.
But there are also positive stories. Stories reflecting the efforts and actions of people from all across Europe who have made the transition to work in partnership with nature rather than against it, whether as part of big, transboundary projects or individual, home-grown efforts such as planting wildflowers in your garden to help pollinators. We will hear a lot of these stories over the next three days.
One very positive story is the Natura 2000 network, which now covers 18% of Europe's land mass and around 4% of its marine area. And it is still expanding, especially in our seas.
It is a network we can justifiably be proud of. As the centrepiece of biodiversity policy, Natura 2000 is the result of unique cooperation among the 28 EU Member States. It is one that recognizes our right to develop and use the natural resources of our land and our seas, while demanding that those resources be used sustainably, safeguarding such spaces for future generations.
Last week we presented the second annual Natura 2000 awards to some of the best examples from around the Member States. Some 25,000 Europeans took the time to look carefully at the contestants and vote for their most admirable. This is indeed a very positive indication that Europeans really do value their network.
And quick names check for the winners which were the communication project Natura 2000 Day in Spain.
These awards continue to demonstrate how the Natura 2000 network is not just of interest to passionate conservationists – it is really about people and societies at large. It is thanks to farmers, foresters, hunters and fishermen, local authorities, private companies and many others, that the Natura 2000 network generates high environmental and socio-economic benefits to all EU citizens.
Their efforts are more important now than ever before. As our recent report on the State of Nature in the EU illustrates, while targeted conservation actions have led to positive rehabilitation, the overall status of species and habitats in the EU is still in decline. We will clearly have to step up our efforts.
The Commission is already taking steps in the right direction. In February this year, together with the European Investment Bank, I launched a new Natural Capital Financing Facility, which is to result in examples of investments in nature that make good economic sense (whilst delivering on biodiversity and climate adaptation goals) in line with the Juncker Investment Plan.
Working with nature rather than against it presents huge business opportunities and the new facility is my first effort to encourage more of such investments. Investments in green infrastructure, projects based on payments for ecosystem services or innovative pro-biodiversity and pro-climate adaptation businesses – investments profitable both to businesses and to society! The new facility is an initial step that we hope we can build on.
This is a real milestone on our journey towards an integrated strategy.
Having talked about our strategic approach, I want to now underline the urgency.
As many of you know, today sees the publication of several new Red Lists
This provides a sharp reminder of the extent of our responsibility.
The first ever complete assessment of marine fishes native to Europe, assessing all the 1,220 species present in all Europe's seas, including many highly exploited species that support fisheries, shows many species in decline. Sharks and rays are the most threatened, with 40.4% of them threatened with extinction.
As Commissioner for Environment, Fisheries and Maritime affairs, one of my top priorities is to ensure that these policies are all working in the same direction. And as this Red List makes clear, good policies are vital for helping these species to recover. Good policies are ones that work in practice.
And here we have proof. Two of the most iconic species, Atlantic Cod and Atlantic Bluefin Tuna are now recovering.
The reward of this success can be felt immediately as our fishing industry has for the first time this season in a number of years been allowed to fish higher levels with the peace of mind that the industry will continue to survive in the years to come. A clear example that sustainable policies make perfect business sense!
Our on-going Fitness Check of the Birds and Habitats Directives is looking closely at the factors that are preventing the scale of the positive change needed to bring about a visible improvement in the state of nature at EU level. We are looking at whether the objectives of the legislation – which no one is questioning, can be delivered more effectively. I would invite you to engage constructively in this very important work and in particular to take part in the public consultation currently underway on the Fitness Check.
So let's go into Green Week with this thought in our minds: We need to be more aware of nature's contribution to our quality of life and economy. Let's shift gear from "aware to care" and assume responsibility in our decisions from household to micro and macro levels of society.
The degradation of nature and biodiversity loss is not destiny. It can be fought through careful planning and realign the opportunity while respecting the threats.
It certainly takes the support and dedicated efforts of a range of governmental and non-governmental players, businesses, farmers, communities and citizens.
Finally, it takes international coordination and cooperation - the sort of coordination that ought to make the EU an example of sustainable development around the globe. Let's find ways of making that happen.
I invite you all to participate in the debates and look forward to all contributions.
Thank you for listening and thank you for your continued passion.