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EU plans measures to curb demand for natural resources

EurActiv.com, 8 April 2010 - Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik yesterday (7 April) announced that he is preparing new measures for 2011 to reflect the true cost of natural resources in products and services and substitute virgin raw materials for waste wherever possible.

Next year the Commission will deliver "concrete plans to make Europe a resource efficient economy," said Potočnik, addressing the European Parliament's environment committee yesterday (7 April).

Resource efficiency is one of seven flagship initiatives under the 'Europe 2020' strategy for growth and jobs.

The commissioner said that the strategy's explicit reference to sustainable growth and environmental concerns constitutes recognition of the fact that "there are not enough of the world's resources to go round," with global population projected to reach nine billion by 2050.

"We have no choice but to radically change our production and consumption patterns" if the earth is to sustain future generations, he added.

Potočnik said the EU executive would be looking for policies that "create the economic conditions that will incentivise reduction in the demand for natural resources" by adopting a life-cycle approach (LCA) to measuring the environmental footprint of products and services.

LCA is used to measure the environmental impact of products throughout their life-cycles, from raw material extraction and production to consumption, reuse and final disposal.

The commissioner hopes to mainstream resource efficiency "in all sectors of the economy". The process will be accompanied by "the right integrated guidelines and monitoring and guidance mechanisms" at national level, he added.  

'Umbrella initiative' on resource efficiency

At EU level, Potočnik hopes to gather support for "an umbrella initiative" to drive resource efficiency.

Such an initiative would include new measures to boost more sustainable consumption and production patterns, "adjust relative prices to reflect the true value of our resources" and increase demand for green products and technologies through public procurement, he said.

It would also include measures to promote better understanding of products' ecological footprints, "further substitute the worst performing products on the market" and give due consideration to waste and recycling's potential as a valuable source of secondary raw materials to substitute natural resources, Potočnik continued.

Eco-innovation

Niche technologies are not enough, the commissioner said. "Much wider and faster eco-innovation across the whole economy, including in new services sectors and households" is needed to achieve green growth, he explained. As an example of eco-innovation, he highlighted new business models for using, reducing and recycling waste to complement new technologies in the field.

With the help of his personal advisor on eco-innovation, Professor Frieder Meyer-Krahmer, Potočnik plans to work this year on a Commission initiative to support green technologies and new business models.

The initiative will include ways to beef-up eco-innovation through green public procurement, support business networking and measures to open global markets, he said, referring to the EU's potential to take the lead on global eco-innovation.

Biodiversity

Turning to more immediate action, Potočnik said the focus is now on preparing a new global vision for biodiversity post-2010 in Nagoya, Japan, in October 2010.

Stressing the need to deliver, he pledged to work towards establishing "an ambitious, yet realistic and feasible biodiversity strategy" right after the negotiations in Nagoya. But the success of any biodiversity strategy will also depend on it being integrated into key sectoral policies, he added.

Recognising the EU's failure to halt biodiversity loss by 2010, the Commission tabled policy options for a new 2020 target in January. The options range from scaling down previous ambitions to stepping up the EU's contribution to halting global biodiversity loss.

The options are currently being discussed and the EU executive is set to present a new strategy by the end of the year.

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