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We must go green for a good future


The European Union and United States are negotiating on a new trade deal

The European Union and United States are negotiating on a new trade deal

The European Union and United States are negotiating on a new trade deal

Every now and then a new economic trend is identified that might fundamentally shift perceptions. The European Environment State and Outlook 2015 Report (SOER) has identified one such trend.

Between 2000 and 2010, the biggest boom-to-bust period of the past hundred years, Europe's green industries grew by 50%. While the bust hit practically every other sector, green industries continued to flourish.

Companies that embraced environmental concerns weathered the storm and theirs is the lead to follow. The threat of recession proved a remarkable source of innovation.

As a society, we are learning to do more with less, but often the resources saved by smart techniques are spent somewhere else, as part of the "rebound effect".

In the transport sector, for example, greater fuel efficiency has a limited impact on fuel use, as Europeans drive more as a result.

We need a more systemic approach, which keeps resources in the economy. When products reach the end of their lives, the useful materials they contain should be harvested for re-use.

This is the circular economy at work. Studies show significant savings from circular economy approaches and a potential boost of 3% in the EU's GDP.

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The question is not whether we should do it - it's how. Before the end of 2015, the European Commission will present a new circular economy package. It will look into goals on recycling, smarter use of raw materials, intelligent product design, re-use and repair of products and recycling.

The SOER findings will inform EU policy for the next five years. They show that Europeans now enjoy cleaner air and water, send less waste to landfills and recycle more than they did five years ago.

But there are warnings to heed if we want to prevent the deterioration of our environment.

The EU and the European Commission, in particular, play an essential role here. We must combine legislative action, incentives, information exchange and support for voluntary approaches to promote this perception shift.

Because, when there is political will, legal certainty and public support, investment will follow.

  • Karmenu Vella is European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime and Fisheries

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