Thank you very much Jacki. And I am really happy that this complicated way of doing things today is in your very capable hands and I am sure it will go very well.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am speaking to you from my home. The Circular Economy Stakeholder Conference has become something of a tradition but this year the circumstances are particularly difficult. Not just because of the pandemic, not just because of other looming crises we face, but also my thoughts, like yours, are with the victims and the loved ones of the terrorist attack in Vienna last night.
This scourges something we as Europeans will have to deal with. Our values are under threat and we have to step up to make sure that those who want to undermine them or attack them, get a very firm response. This is I think one of the biggest challenges we face as a society. Without our values, we are no longer a society.
In this context, I think it is also important to remind ourselves that we are faced with existential challenges. The climate crisis is something that if it is not tackled, it is going to cause major disruptions that then will no longer be under our control - we can no longer mend things. The pandemic is a wake-up call, telling us that our relationship with our natural environment is flawed, is not right and we need to fix that as well.
And I don’t want to overload your job or mine but the circular economy is part of the solution and an extremely import part of the solution. If you just know that half of the greenhouse gas emissions and 90% of biodiversity loss is linked to extraction of natural resources, you know that limiting that extraction and reducing it, going to a circular economy, is going to be an important contribution to tackling these incredible, incredibly, difficult challenges.
But it can be done. The good news is: we can do this. And if we focus on issues that will help us design a new way to have our economy constructed, if we can devise this new Action Plan we have produced to help us change the way products are made, sold, consumed in the European Union, we will really change economic model and create the possibility of huge economic growth and jobs. But growth and jobs in harmony with the limits that our natural environment sets.
So while all the actions we have in our Action Plan will contribute to these objectives, the flagship initiative, which we will present next year, is the European Sustainable Product Policy Initiative. It will bring important changes, especially to, you know it well, the EU Ecodesign Directive.
We want to see in the EU market products that are durable, reusable, repairable and safe; products that are made for high-quality recycling; products that are increasingly made of recycled materials.
In certain cases, we will also have to apply restrictions: for example in case of single-use products or the destruction of durable goods. These should be phased out and only stay allowed in very exceptional cases.
The Sustainable Product Policy framework will guide the design and production of all products but, as a priority, we will focus on key value chains and sectors where the sustainability challenges are the biggest. And of course, to name a few, it is ICT, construction, we need to use the renovation wave we have announced to also make construction circular, packaging, as you know a big challenge, textiles, we all know about that.
In addition to creating a new framework for producers, we want to empower European consumers with better environmental information and we need to protect them against greenwashing. Consumers are increasingly demanding products and services that do no harm to our natural environment. And we have to help them to be able to make the right choices.
Next to product policy, we will continue enhancing our waste policy. Several measures are foreseen for that, from harmonized separate waste collection systems to the review of rules on waste shipments. Europe needs to be able to take care of its own waste and make sure it does not export pollution to other parts of the world.
This is a great economic opportunity - I can’t stress this enough. If we build a well-functioning European market for the highest quality recycled materials and make “Recycled in the EU” a benchmark worldwide, we create jobs and reduce our dependence on primary raw materials. And I know it is difficult, I know at this stage prices are not helping at all. So we really need to step in to make this work better.
We need to ensure that we leave no-one behind in this and create the social support to bring people along. So circular economy has a huge and exciting job creation potential but we will need targeted measures so that we help people acquire the skills they need to take the jobs. Because otherwise we end up in a double problem - new economy with new opportunity but no people to fill the jobs because they don’t have the skills and at the same time high unemployment. That would be something that would really really harm us.
Last but not least, we have to ensure that crucial enablers such as research, innovation and digitalization are put at the service of the circular transition. Circular economy does not mean limitations and lower levels of comfort but means smarter products, smarter services, smarter business models, driven or supported by top technological and social innovations.
And it is not just an internal effort we need to do, we need to take this to the global scale. To make the cooperation on the global scale easier, we will propose a Global Circular Economy and Resource Efficiency Alliance. It will be an Alliance of governments, supported by stakeholders, to advocate for the transition at the political level and in multilateral fora, of course in the United Nations in the framework of the SDGs.
We also intend to start discussions on an international agreement for sustainable management of natural resources.
And we are committed to push for an ambitious global agreement on plastics to stop plastic pollution. I mean it is one of our most successful steps in the right direction but now we need to follow it up.
This is about business. The circular economy should be the economic model of the future, not just for Europe but for the world at large. If we get this right, we can create a healthy economy for decades to come, within the boundaries that the natural world sets.
It is highly important to take the right steps right now. You know this is one of the most, how should I say this, compelling things. We need to do things now in the next couple of years. If we fail in the next couple of years, we fail our kids. I will fail the grandson I had only three months ago if we don’t take the steps right now. And I can’t stress that enough.
And we have an opportunity now that Europe has come together to have the funds available to invest to get us out of the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. But we need to spend the money wisely, we need to spend the money so that we create a new and sustainable economy.
Over the day, you will hear more about our Action Plan, about all the elements in it and you will also hear that we need you to prepare all the legislative and non-legislative work ahead in the Commission, so that we can get this really laid down in legislation.
It is all about you, it is all about you – you will need to make the moves. We need to create the circumstances for you to be able to move. But we need your leadership to get us there and I count on your leadership. And I will be with you to make it happen.
Have a great couple of days, thank you.