Karmenu Vella talks EU Green Week 2019
Green Week encapsulates all that the EU has achieved so far with its green policies but also highlights what still remains to be done, explains Karmenu Vella.
Green Week 2019 closes a cycle. From the outset, our aim has been to show how green policies are working to transform citizens’ lives.
We began with a look at the effects of green investment in 2016 and moved onto green jobs the following year.
Green cities followed in 2018, and we are now seeing how these initiatives are coming together to make an impact at local level, focusing on EU legislation that directly affects citizens’ lives.
The unifying element in 2019 is the two-year cycle known as the Environment Implementation Review (EIR).
This is a series of reports on how EU environment law is working in practice, with tailored recommendations for each Member State.
The EIR is part of a cycle of reporting, analysis, dialogue and consultation. Its objective is to look at what is currently working in EU environment policy.
There have been some notable successes; the EU, politicians, businesses, and civil society alike now support our call for a more sustainable economy, and we are progressing towards greater circularity.
Four years ago, I thought that delivering an ambitious plastics strategy or a ban on single-use plastics would be a long shot, yet the public are now ensuring that these become a reality.
But not all our policies are performing as well as they could; that’s why we need the review. We style ourselves as a “Europe that protects”, but we need to live up to this claim.
When it comes to air pollution, for example, 18 Member States still struggle with high nitrogen oxide production and 15 Member States need to reduce emissions of particulate matter.
Both pollutants have a serious impact on our health. We are addressing this problem through a variety of channels, including clean air dialogues in our Member States and expert exchanges, which bring together all the stakeholders to work on solutions carefully adapted to local conditions.
“I thought that delivering an ambitious plastics strategy or a ban on single-use plastics would be a long shot, yet the public are now ensuring that these become a reality”
Two-thirds of our Member States still have problems with urban wastewater treatment. Greater investment is essential and the review shows how EU funds are there to back up implementation efforts.
Waste prevention also remains a major challenge. Nine countries are on track, while five have already reached their recycling targets; however, fourteen remain at risk of falling short.
This is also the approach we take to nature. A fitness check revealed that the major obstacle to achieving biodiversity targets was a lack of implementation on the ground, so the action plan we produced gave priority to partnering with stakeholder communities.
In this second edition, we are raising the level of ambition and expanding the review to cover climate change, industrial emissions and chemicals.
We know that the EIR approach is working, because it is bringing Member States together at the levels that really matter.
Each one has now used the ‘Peer-to-Peer’ tool that accompanies the EIR, which helps authorities at the sharp end of enforcement improve their capacity.
Green Week and the European Parliament elections are both approaching fast. Environment is an area where Europe has taken a great deal of action and these policies are generally very well-perceived - in fact it’s often what citizens like most about the EU.
From Lisbon to Bucharest and from Stockholm to Athens - the water that we drink or bathe in, the air we breathe, the wildlife that surrounds us - all benefits from the same high standards.
Our annual conference is well established, but it has undergone considerable change during my mandate.
“When it comes to air pollution eighteen Member States still struggle with high levels of nitrogen oxide and fifteen Member States need to reduce emissions of particulate matter”
In my drive to bring Europe closer to the citizens that our policies directly affect, I decided to keep the same Brussels-based elements, but to open Green Week in a different European city and to ensure that numerous related events take place all around the EU.
As a result, a huge part of the conference now takes place in devolved locations. This year, almost 200 events will be taking place outside Brussels and will be attended by more than 100,000 people.
This approach is particularly suitable to this year’s theme, as we are striving to highlight the role of those working to bring EU law into force at ground level, thus making a direct impact on citizens’ lives.
Our circle is closing, and I will be very interested to see how the next Commissioner uses this powerful tool. But first, I hope to see as many people as possible at the conference this year.
There, I will be taking part in the debates and listening to citizens’ views on how we all can play an important role in protecting and improving our quality of life and the environment around us.
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