Monday

21st Jan 2019

Opinion

Resource efficiency in danger of slipping off EU's agenda

  • The commission suggests that full implementation of its proposed waste policies would create over 580,000 jobs (Photo: United Nations Photo)

Jean-Claude Juncker, the new European Commission President, is clear that growth and jobs, backed by a reduction of ‘red tape’, are his top priorities.

But a letter sent by his vice-president Frans Timmermans to member states asking whether they would back the scrapping of certain legislative proposals has set alarm bells ringing.

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One regulation offered up for the chop is the ‘Circular Economy Package’ – the EU’s proposal for better waste management and resource recovery.

We should all be worried that resource efficiency is in danger of slipping off the EU’s agenda, given its great potential to create jobs and boost the economy, while increasing resource security and protecting the environment.

The environmental argument is strong and well-understood. Humans are unsustainably overstretching the planet’s resources – particularly in Europe.

Yet there are plenty of economic and political reasons for legislation promoting resource efficiency. This is not just the position of environmental groups and progressive businesses, but also of Janez Potocnik, newly appointed co-chair of UNEP’s International Resource Panel, who has vociferously defended the package drawn up under his watch as EU environment commissioner.

“Ask footballers if they want a good referee and clear rules,” Potocnik told a recent conference on resource efficiency.

Without these, football matches would end in chaos, with the most aggressive players taking over. We see this happening in our economy today. Businesses – like footballers – need predictability, and with the Circular Economy Package, this is what the Commission is providing.

Those who view the proposal as too ambitious only see waste as a problem, not as a valuable resource.

Countries that are opposed because they currently landfill all their waste actually stand to gain most from the proposed regulation.

The EU’s current models of production and consumption are resource-intensive. As our resource needs are constantly growing and raw materials are becoming ever more expensive, producing in a way that enables recycling and resource recovery is the only way to keep industry in the EU if we are sincere about that goal.

Increasing resource efficiency is a rare opportunity for Europe to respond to the globalisation challenge and improve competitiveness, all while reducing our harmful impact on the environment.

Even the Commission’s own impact assessment shows it makes economic as well as environmental sense to push ahead with the Circular Economy Package. Its assessment suggests that full implementation of the proposed waste policies would create over 580,000 jobs, increase the annual turnover of the EU waste management and recycling sector by €42 billion, and save €72 billion a year in waste management costs.

This is in addition to helping make European businesses more competitive and reducing demand for resources that are becoming scarcer and more costly.

Turning its back on the proposed resource efficiency legislation would be a U-turn that the EU cannot afford.

If serious waste legislation is absent when Juncker and Timmermans announce the Commission’s 2015 work programme on 16 December, it will prove they are only interested in short-term business interests and that they have not grasped the difference between the real red tape and beneficial regulation.

If we want to grow Europe’s economy, while protecting the environment for future generations, we need to transform it into a sustainable and future-proofed one. We need to act like we are part of the nature that sustains us and our economy, and stop behaving like an invasive species.

Magda Stoczkiewicz is the director of Friends of the Earth Europe, a network of grassroots environmental and social justice organisations.

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