European Commission launches new initiative to boost impact of environmental technologies

March 25, 2003
The European Commission has launched a new initiative to boost the impact of environmental technologies on the environment, economy, employment, natural resources and people's quality of life.

March 25, 2003 -- A new initiative to boost the impact of environmental technologies on the environment, economy, employment, natural resources and people's quality of life has been launched today by the European Commission.

Environmental technologies can, for instance, turn waste into raw materials. The Communication "Developing an action plan for environmental technology", kicks off a wide stakeholders' consultation that will enable research and business communities, governments and other players to assess the barriers holding back the take up of environmental technologies.

Many barriers continue to prevent the full development and use of environmental technologies, such as red tape, higher costs and public attitudes. The communication includes questions on a wide-range of issues related to climate change, soil protection, sustainable production and consumption, and water, on which stakeholders will be invited to comment by 15th May.

The response of stakeholders will contribute to the preparation of an action plan by the end of the year.

Welcoming the adoption of the Communication, Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström declared: "We already know that there are environmental technologies unable to penetrate the market because of a number of technical, economic, regulatory and social barriers. I want the experts in the development, production and use of environmental technologies to share with us their experience about how we can overcome these barriers."

Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin added: "Without Europe's pioneering re-search, the existence of the environmental innovations we enjoy today could be in question. To ensure that we further benefit from the economic, social and environmental gains inherent in these technologies, it is vital that we invest in this area of research. The consultation and the Action Plan should foster the take-up of clean technological applications and production processes."

The European Council on March 20-21, 2003, stressed the importance of technology in meeting the sustainability goals of the Lisbon strategy. New technologies are a way to achieve environmental improvements, competitiveness and growth at the same time.

The overall European expenditure on cleaner technologies and pollution management has risen by 5% year on year since 1994. The private sector is playing an increasingly important role, accounting for 45% of total expenditure in 1994 and 59% in 1999. The EU's direct employment in eco-industries amounted to 1.6 million jobs in 1999. Total direct employment resulting from pollution management and cleaner technologies has risen by around 500,000 jobs since 1994.

The EU eco-industries supply some €183 billion of goods and services per year (around €500 per person). Pollution management and cleaner technologies account for around €127 billion and resource management (excluding renewable energy plants) around €56 billion. In the Candidate Countries, pollution management and cleaner technologies' eco-industries supply around €10,3 billion of goods and services a year (equivalent to 1.9% of their Gross Domestic Product GDP).

The Commission provides for an important contribution to the development of new environment-friendly technologies. With a budget of over €1.1 billion within the 5th EU Research Framework Programme (FP5 1998-2002), the Commission has supported more than 1000 industrial technologies and materials' projects. Within the 6th EU Research Framework Programme, a total of € 3.42 billion will be devoted to these two priorities over the next four years, with a key role for environmental technologies. Applications include nanotechnologies and sustainable transport.

Undoubtedly, environmental technologies represent a growing market at EU and world level. The concept of environmental technology is not limited to a small number of core activities. It includes both low- and high-tech applications as well as skills and know-how, in particular process and risk management. For instance, relatively modest adaptations in industrial processes by means of piping, screens, filters, tanks etc. can be just as important - and more accessible - as high-tech applications.

The barriers to these promising technologies are often the same in different environmental areas, and the Communication focuses on four: climate change, soil protection, sustainable production and consumption, and water. In particular, economic barriers are consistently a problem unless true environmental costs are taken into account. Poor access to finance coupled with long investment cycles as well as poor dissemination of new technologies are also issues. Technical barriers show the need for targeted and more effective research efforts. Also, technology entry into the market is slowed down by organisational barriers, and a lack of awareness and skills.

The purpose is not only protecting the environment, natural resources and quality of life. It is also a matter of economic competitiveness. Technologies that have become economically and environmentally attractive will be adopted by business, governments and households. It is key to understand future markets. The Communication identifies a number of potential measures, but the dialogue with research and business communities, governments and other interested parties will play an essential role in the final selection of the most promising technologies and actions. They are invited to respond by the 15th May (see specific questions in annex).

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