A race to the top: Europe’s low-carbon future – Speech


By José Manuel Durão Barroso, President of the European Commission

EP Low Carbon Prosperity Summit

Your Royal Highness,

President Buzek,

President Van Rompuy,

Distinguished Members of the European Parliament,

Distinguished guests,

Let me start by saying what a remarkable gathering this is! Rarely do we witness such a meeting of minds among political leaders, NGOs, among businesses from across Europe.

Let me start thanking your Royal Highness for a very substantive and at the same time very inspirational statement for all of us. Rarely do we see such encouraging evidence of the partnerships we need, if we are to put Europe onto the road of sustainable growth.

So I am very grateful to President Buzek and the Prince of Wales’s Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership, for organising this summit today.

I want to congratulate them as well for the very appropriate name chosen for this gathering: “Low Carbon Prosperity Summit”,.

The European Commission has tried to demonstrate the synergy between low carbon and prosperity in its Europe 2020 strategy: a vision for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

Europe 2020 is the compass that guides us towards a low carbon development strategy. And if it mentions ‘green growth’, ‘resource efficiency’, ‘low-carbon economy’, it is not to jump on the buzz-word bandwagonNo. Our Europe 2020 Strategy mentions these things because sustainable growth and the shift to a resource-efficient, low-carbon economy are not optional extras, introduced in the Strategy as an afterthought. They are the key to repositioning Europe for the new markets of the 21st century, new areas of growth, new jobs for Europe’s citizens.

Our determination to waste no time in pressing forward with this approach was illustrated once again two weeks ago, with the adoption of the ‘flagship’ initiative ‘A resource-efficient Europe’.

In today’s world of growing pressures over global public goods, the only adequate answer to ensure the preservation of the planet, security of supply and economic growth is to turn to more efficient use of resources.

Three conditions we believe are indispensable:

  • Co-ordinated action across a wide range of policy areas, with political visibility and support. That is why I am really grateful for all the efforts that business leaders are making in terms of awareness of this cause. Resource efficiency cannot be limited to a ‘green niche’ but must be part and parcel of broader economic reforms;
  • Urgent action in view of often long investment lead-times, to enable businesses to make informed choices based on stable, predictable, long-term policies, and ensure real benefits for the EU economy for decades to come; and finally
  • Action that encourages consumers to push for resource-efficient consumption, drives continuous innovation and ensures that efficiency gains are not lost.

The ‘Resource-efficient Europe’ initiative will help make resource efficiency the common denominator for climate change, energy, transport, industry, raw materials, agriculture, fisheries, biodiversity and regional development. So it will be in fact mainstreaming these goals of great variety of policy areas.

The benefits are clear: boost economic performance while reducing resource use; identify and create new opportunities for growth and innovation; ensure security of supply of essential resources at a time when competition for those resources is growing fast; and fight against climate change, limiting the environmental impacts of resource use.

Much of this can be done at no to little cost through different patterns of production and consumption, a better understanding of what is at stake and also changes in behaviour.

But some actions will require considerable investment in technological improvements, and a significant transition in energy, industrial, agricultural and transport systems.

This cannot happen overnight. But it won’t happen at all unless businesses have the certainty they need to invest now, and ensure that future generations benefit from smart investment. A regulatory framework would provide such long-term stability and certainty.

If we set the right framework, invest in our scientists and research, then businesses will lead the way. It worked when driving smog from our cities, when combating acid rain, when reversing the damage to the ozone layer. It will work again now.

There are plenty of encouraging signs for those who care to look. Across the EU, recycling has started to become normal practice for businesses and households. Since 1990, we have reduced greenhouse gas emissions in the EU by more than 10% – while our economies have grown by about 40%.

We are reducing our reliance on fossil fuels by increasing efficiency and developing alternatives. Think of the rapid growth in renewable energy. Of the current 25 largest photovoltaic power stations in the world, 23 out of 25 are in the European Union! This growth must be encouraged, indeed accelerated and extended to other areas, to reap the full benefits.

A successful strategy will lead to improved competitiveness. It will create quality jobs, and have important health and quality of life pay-offs. For example, jobs created in sectors linked to sustainable growth are often more secure, with high potential for exports and the creation of economic value. And low-carbon technologies help reduce emissions, while reducing air and noise pollution and improving public health.

Stricter environmental targets and standards have also helped stimulate innovation. Analysis by the European Patent Office and UNEP has shown that patenting rates in clean energy technologies have seriously outpaced fossil technologies since the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol.

So despite the progress, this is no time to take our foot off the accelerator. We should be under no illusions. Other players in the world are quickly catching up and we are running the risk of losing the first mover advantage in key sectors.

In spring we will outline what the EU needs to do to create a low-carbon economy by 2050, cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95%, as part of global efforts to fight climate change.

At the same time, we will present a vision for a low-carbon, resource-efficient, secure and competitive transport system by 2050.

Also this spring, we will publish an energy efficiency plan, which will identify measures to achieve energy savings of 20% by 2020, building on the very good results of the European Council last Friday;

By the summer, we will define our medium and long-term objectives and the means for achieving them, with the main aim of decoupling economic growth from resource use.

An analysis of how the EU can create an energy system by 2050 which is low-carbon, resource-efficient should be ready by this autumn.

Proposals will also come to reform the Common Agricultural Policy, the Common Fisheries Policy and Cohesion Policy, in the context of the next EU budget, to align these areas with the requirements of a resource-efficient, low-carbon economy. There will also be a revision of the Energy Taxation Directive.

The economic benefits of these policy initiatives are self-evident. Europe currently imports more than €300 billion of its energy needs – about 2.5% of its GDP. Achieving our renewables and energy efficiency targets in 2020 could reduce this bill by €200 billion. It could also create up to 2 million jobs – most of them non-outsourced – and cut our CO2 emissions by more than 700 million tonnes.

Ladies and gentlemen,

What we are all involved in here is a race to the top. Building a low-carbon future for Europe is not a step backwards as some suggest, it is and can be a business friendly and competitiveness agenda as well. On the contrary, I am convinced that our efforts will lead to greater prosperity, with businesses reaping the benefits of greater resource efficiency and first-to-market advantages in cutting-edge innovation.

I share the view that the future belongs to those who understand that doing more with less is more intelligent and competitive. All it takes is political will and partnership. And that is exactly what I see before me today.

I want to thank you all very much.

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