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News in Brief, BB200711

EU economy ‘not sustainable’ - climate and energy top priority for 2008

11.12.2007

On 24 October, the European Commission released a progress report on its sustainable development policy, in which it concluded that “to obtain the necessary results on the ground, action to turn around persistent unsustainable trends must be significantly stepped up”. In the same week, it published its work plan for 2008, which gives priority to energy and climate policy, including a series of initiatives on energy and a white paper on climate change.

The EU Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS) was adopted by EU heads of state in June 2006. It focuses on seven key areas:

- climate change and clean energy;
- sustainable transport;
- sustainable consumption and production;
- conservation and management of natural resources;
- public health;
- social inclusion, demography and migration;
- global poverty.

This first progress report is mixed, containing some positive results, but they are heavily counterbalanced by an overwhelming need to improve sustainability within the EU. For example, the report praises the steps forward taken at the European Council summit in March 2006, where heads of state agreed to binding targets in renewable energies and greenhouse gas reduction. However, it highlights “clean energy” as one of the crucial priorities for the future. Renewable energy use in the EU-27 has grown - by an average rate of 4.1% per year between 2000 and 2005 – but this must be increased significantly in order to meet the 2010 target of 12%.

In addition, there has been a continued increase in transport-related greenhouse gas emissions, says the report - 1.2% between 2000 and 2005 in the EU-27. The car is still the dominant mode of transport - 84.8% of inland transport kilometres are travelled by car.

The document also notes that, were the EU to cut the amount of material and energy it uses to make products, energy savings of at least 20%, or €60 billion, could be made. On average, Europe uses twice as much material to make a consumer product than Japan, although this is still less than the US.

Biodiversity loss continues, the report says, despite an increase in resource productivity. Fish stocks are diminishing.

In terms of mental and physical public health, the greatest problems are obesity and depression. There are still significant numbers of smokers – one-quarter of Europeans do so.

Although unemployment is down overall, 26% of the population of the EU-27 is at risk of poverty.

The need for increased sustainability demonstrated in the report, particularly related to climate and energy, is reflected in the Commission’s 2008 agenda. A legislative package on renewable energy will be released early next year, and this will contain new targets for GHG reduction and renewable energy promotion. It will also present a revision of the ETS (Emissions Trading Scheme).

Policy papers on the Commission’s itinerary for 2008 include one on “greening the transport sector”, another on internalising environmental and social transport costs and a third on an EU maritime transport policy.

Other items on the 2008 agenda to help the EU improve its sustainability include two action plans on sustainable industrial policy and sustainable production and consumption, as well as a mid-term report on the EU’s biodiversity action plan. There will be a revision of the energy performance of buildings directive, an enlargement of the EU’s alphabetic energy labelling scheme and proposals for an environmental technology verification scheme. The Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) directive, and the RoHS directive on hazardous substances, will be revised.

Read the European Commission’s 2008 agenda.
Read the SDS progress report.

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