The 'green economy' is now a reality in Europe. According to Eurostat, the production of energy from renewable sources and the manufacturing and installation of heat and energy saving equipment created nearly one million jobs in the EU between 2000 and 2012.
During that same period, the green sector outperformed all other economic sectors in terms of growth. These are concrete results that we reached after spending years implementing policies and investments. And now, we are headed for even better results.
Last December, 195 countries came together in Paris to adopt the world's first universal climate change agreement. The efforts and objectives contained in the text have set us on a path that is irreversible and unstoppable. Implementing the Paris protocol, together with the transition to a circular economy in Europe, will serve as strong drivers for innovation and job creation.
A more sustainable economy does not simply depend on political will. It is increasingly the result of a cost-benefit approach by producers.
We should work together to bring forth a shift. The mainstreaming of environmental policies in economic activities is a necessity if we want to achieve the targets set out at COP 21; these should be met in Europe and globally.
Sectors such as energy, food, water, transport, urban infrastructure, homes and commercial buildings production and consumption should be subject to a completely new approach. We need to boost sustainable growth and protect our planet and citizens' health, without endangering the competitiveness of our industries.
We need to do better on reaching climate targets and the efficient use of natural resources. Over the next few years, not only will this require developing new sectors of activity, but also focusing and research to avoid further waste and inefficiency.
A few examples: clearly separate waste collection and more work on reuse and recycling than simple waste disposal.
Environmental policies, when correctly implemented, have the capacity to generate relevant saving to national budgets in terms of social costs and ecosystem services. According to the European Commission, the direct costs to society from air pollution, including damage to crops and buildings, amount to about €23bn per year.
The benefits to people's health from implementing the package on air quality amount to around €40bn a year, over 12 times the costs of pollution abatement, which according to estimates will reach €3.4bn per year by 2030. These are precious resources that will free up member states' budgets, allowing them to finance innovation and new job opportunities.
As far as innovation is concerned I would like to point out the need to guarantee, if not increase, the EU budget climate-related commitments under the multiannual financial framework 2014-2020.
Europe is home to many of the world's most innovative companies, and holds a leading position in many fields of knowledge and key future technologies. The EU should further demonstrate its leadership through the appropriate funding.
In a 2013 resolution on eco-innovation, jobs and growth through environmental policy, the European Parliament pointed out some conditions that must be met to achieve green growth. First, there needs to be better coordination at national and local level to support regional partnerships for growth, innovation, jobs and cross-border initiatives.
Member states should also provide incentives for businesses, in particular SMEs, to promote greater investment in private sector research and development (R&D) activities; in this context developing the eco-innovation action plan is a key tool.
The resolution also stressed the need for a socially responsible transition towards high-quality green jobs. In this context it will be necessary to make efficient use of the European social fund for programmes aimed at up-skilling, training and retraining employees.
In conclusion, I believe a greener future is the only option we have to preserve the quality of life of our citizens and increase the competitiveness of Europe in the global markets.
The direction is clear, but as European institutions we must guarantee that all the appropriate tools are put at the service of this goal.
In other words, we need good planning at all the levels of governance, clear investment targets and, last but not least, effective monitoring of how financial instruments are used, not only to help mainstream best practices, but also to avoid any harmful subsidies for environment. I believe that these are the key actions in order to reach our ambitious goals.