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EU action plan to boost Environmental Technologies for innovation, growth and sustainable development

EU action plan to boost Environmental Technologies for innovation, growth and sustainable development

The European Commission today adopted an ambitious Action Plan to improve the development and wider use of environmental technologies. Many new environmental technologies have great potential to improve the environment and, at the same time, boost the competitiveness of companies. Examples of environmental technologies range from recycling systems for waste water in industrial processes, to energy-saving car engines, which allow cars to use less fuel, to soil remediation techniques. However, there are still many barriers, including the complexity of switching from traditional to new technologies, and insufficient access to capital. The Action Plan aims to overcome these barriers through a concerted European effort to help maximise the potential of environmental technologies. It will also help the EU achieve its sustainable development goals in a cost effective way. The Plan should enable the EU to become a recognised leader in environmental technologies. Key actions include the launch of technology platforms with stakeholders in areas such as hydrogen and fuel cells, photovoltaics, and water supply and sanitation; establishing environmental performance targets for products and services; and making the most of funding schemes and public and private procurement policies.

Welcoming the adoption of the Communication(1), Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström declared \"This action plan is a pragmatic way to address the joint \'sustainable development\' challenges of protecting the environment and at the same time enhancing innovation and competitiveness in Europe. There are good examples in Europe showing that environmental technologies are a great way to achieve this. For example, there are European countries which, twenty years ago, invested in wind power and which today are world leaders, exporting wind turbine technology worth billions of Euros. There are many people who have brilliant ideas for new technologies that protect the environment. Often, however, they don\'t find the money to develop these ideas, or, if they do, the technologies are not taken up due to conservative attitudes and unhelpful markets. With the Action Plan, we want to change these attitudes and break down barriers to environmental technologies.\"

Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin added: \"Europe is among the world leaders in the development of environmental technologies such as photovoltaics, wind energy and hydroelectric power, and pollution control through better waste management. We have to foster the development of other key environmental technologies as well.

They bear a strong potential for growth and employment. Of course, this requires a boost to our R&D efforts, by maximising the impactof European research through enhanced co-ordination and synergies and by increasing the R&D expenditure up to 3% of EU GDP by 2010. The creation of European technology platforms in some well-selected environmental technology sectors will be instrumental in achieving this ambitious objective.\"

The Action Plan

The Plan contains eleven priority actions for the Commission, national and regional governments, industry and other stakeholders to improve the development and uptake of environmental technologies. These include:

    the launch of 3 technology platforms bringing together researchers, industry, financial institutions, decision-makers and other relevant stakeholders, to build a long-term vision on the research needs in this area and future market developments; the technology platforms on hydrogen and fuel cells and on photovoltaics are already planned to start in early 2004. A similar platform on water supply and sanitation technologies will be launched in early 2005 ;

    developing and agreeing on ambitious environmental performance targets for key products, processes and services. This will encourage their uptake by business and consumers, as has been shown for example by energy-consumption labels on fridges; and

    mobilising financial instruments, both within and outside the EU, to share the risks of investing in environmental technologies, with a focus on climate change, energy and small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs). The European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the funding mechanisms resulting from the Kyoto Protocol (the Clean Development Mechanism and Joint Implementation) should play a role in this action.

A full list of actions can be found at the website indicated at the end of this press release.

Why do we need to promote environmental technologies?

Promoting economic growth is vital for the EU, as is a high level of environmental protection. It is therefore necessary to de-couple economic growth from negative environmental impacts. Environmental technologies can help: they contribute to technological innovation and in addition, they can increase European competitiveness, unlock potential markets and ultimately create new, highly-skilled jobs. For instance, saving energy in industrial processes or developing new \"clean\" cars will contribute to addressing the challenge of climate change while reducing overall costs for consumers and society in general.

What are \"environmental technologies\"?

They can be defined as \"all technologies whose use is less environmentally harmful than relevant alternatives\". They include technologies to manage pollution (e.g. air pollution control, waste management), less polluting and less resource-intensive products and services (e.g. fuel cells) and ways to manage resources more efficiently (e.g. water supply, energy-saving technologies).

Other more environmentally-sound techniques are process-integrated technologies in all sectors and soil remediation techniques.

Thus defined, these technologies pervade all economic activities and sectors, where they cut costs and improve competitiveness by reducing energy and resource consumption and so creating less emissions and waste.

Barriers to environmental technologies

The development and wider use of environmental technologies is slowed down by various barriers, such as:

    economic barriers, ranging from market prices which do not reflect the external costs of products or services (such as health care costs due to urban air pollution) to the higher cost of investments in environmental technologies because of their perceived risk, the size of the initial investment or the complexity of switching from traditional to environmental technologies;

    regulations and standards can also act as barriers to innovation when they are unclear or too detailed, while good legislation can stimulate environmental technologies;

    insufficient research efforts, coupled with inappropriate functioning of the research system in European countries and weaknesses in information and training;

    inadequate availability of risk capital to move from the drawing board to the production line;

    lack of market demand from the public sector, as well as from consumers.

While many of these barriers can be partially reduced at national or regional level, a concerted European effort and implementation of the Action Plan\'s measures will lead to better results. The size of the Single Market presents much greater opportunities for environmental technologies when compared to smaller, national markets. There are also many existing European funding mechanisms: for research, demonstration projects and also for aid to development - which can be used to promote environmental technologies.

The road to environmental technologies

Promotion of environmental technologies is based on the EU\'s objective of becoming \"the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world\" by 2010, set at the 2000 Lisbon Summit.

The 2001 Göteborg European Council pointed to the contribution that the environmental technology sector can make to promoting growth and employment. The Commission subsequently published a report confirming this analysis and suggested that an Action Plan should be developed with thorough involvement of stakeholders to tackle the obstacles to the development and use of environmental technologies.

Next steps

The Commission will begin implementing this Action Plan immediately, through, for instance, the establishment of technology platforms and of networks of validation centres. The Spring Council in March 2004 will also discuss this Communication. The Commission will review the implementation of this Action Plan and report on it for the first time in 2006. It will also establish a European Panel on Environmental Technologies to bring together the different European stakeholders in this Action Plan with the aim of improving the exchange of information, enabling cross-fertilisation between initiatives and helping the Commission in ETAP\'s implementation. The Member States should be closely involved in exchanging information on best practice, establishing indicators for measuring progress and peer review and establishing guidelines and timetables for the Action Plan.

For further information and the full list of actions proposed please visit:


(1) Stimulating Technologies for Sustainable Development: An Environmental Technologies Action Plan for the European Union, COM(2004)38

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