#EUGreenWeek inspires the North Sea Region

This year’s EU Green Week focused on European environmental laws and their implementation. Project Advisors Jesper Jönsson and Axel Kristiansen were there to showcase environmental projects in the North Sea Region and learn about upcoming EU green policies and actions.

In April 2019, the European Commission published the
Environmental Implementation Review on the state of implementation of environmental laws in Europe.   Amongst the key findings are that implementation gaps currently cost Europeans a staggering EUR 55 billion per year in health and cleanup costs.

Via more than 40 ongoing projects supporting European green policy, the North Sea Region Programme is strongly focused on promoting a greener, cleaner and more circular society. We joined the EU Green Week 17-19 May to learn more and align our Programme activities with European trends.

>>See how North Sea Region projects are promoting EU environmental policy and law

Moving from a linear to a circular economy

Turning the EU into a circular, resource-efficient, green and competitive low carbon economy is one of the key aims of EU Environmental law. What is the role of policy and financing programmes in boosting the circular economy of businesses? This was discussed at the session ‘Fostering investments in support of the EU’s Circular Economy Package.

Pavel Misiga, Head of Unit Eco-innovation, DG Research and Innovation, stated that the concept of circularity has given rise to new business models and markets across the EU. In 2016 alone, circular activities such as repair, reuse or recycling generated around €147 billion in added value and €17.5 billion worth of investments.

Boosting the circular economy requires incentives for minimising waste and optimising resource efficiency of products, processes and services. Astrid Motta of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) highlighted the need to promote value chain collaboration, product longevity, and consumer participation.

The importance of financing circular economy projects was recognised by everyone in the room. The main question raised in the session was, “How fast can we scale-up best practices from trials and case studies?” One of the key recommendations from the European Commission is to create favourable framework conditions for scaling up circular economy projects.

The EU Implementation Review highlights Denmark as a good example of open cooperation along value chains and innovation to promote the circular economy, with the percentage of SMEs offering green products or services significantly higher than the EU-average.

The session ‘How to tackle the environmental impacts of football and other sporting events’, made clear that circularity concerns all aspects of public life. Did you know that the average European football match generates 0.8 kg of waste per spectator?

Football can play a larger part than you might think in tackling waste issues, by raising awareness of consumers inside and outside of the football court.

The session was very inspiring, brimming with information that we can bring back  to boost our work to stimulate eco-friendly economic growth in the North Sea Region.

One example of a North Sea Region project fostering circularity is the project SCALE-UP supporting collaboration between cleantech clusters – knowledge centres involving start-up communities, and cities with specific ambition and experience in cleantech. This speeds up market uptake of a diverse range of innovative products, services, and processes that harness renewable materials and energy sources, dramatically reducing the use of natural resources and cutting or eliminating emissions and waste.

New EAP and focus on place-based approaches

DG Environment is preparing a proposal for the 8th Environmental Action Programme (EAP), replacing the 7th EAP (2013-2019).

An evaluation published on 15 May 2019 found that the 7th EAP has “facilitated an important shift in policy-making by recognising that climate and environmental protection is a driver for green growth, a healthy planet and improved wellbeing for individuals” but “would have benefitted from stricter prioritisation, and a dedicated monitoring mechanism.”

The next EAP is likely to address these shortcomings and will also be designed to clearly link to and support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The EU Green Week session on the next EAP resulted in the following recommendations:

  • Enter new green deals
  • Speed up the transition to a sustainable economy
  • Recognise the importance of taking into account the multi-level governance structures
  • Link closely to the UN SDGs
  • Increase citizen awareness to bring about behavioural change.

In the session “The future of environment policy – better integration and implementation at local and regional level”, the Chair of the Commission for Environment, Climate Change and Energy in the Committee of Regions (CoR) Mr Lamers, mayor of Schiedam in the Netherlands, underlined the need for a new line of thinking with stronger focus on policy integration and multi-level governance.

CoR has identified key drivers and delivered an opinion Towards an 8th Environment Action Programme, mainly focusing on implementing climate and environmental legislation. CoR also calls for putting environmental policy at the heart of all other policies.  Mr Lamers stressed that the next programme must:

  • Take an area-based approach to places where people live, work, and move around. Cities and regions need tailor made solutions;
  • Apply several territorial strategies, adapted to variations in circumstances in the different European regions;
  • Use multi-level governance to close policy gaps with regard to EU environmental law;
  • Support existing partnerships and set up new ones where needed.   

These are the key recommendations from CoR for the new EAP.

Sander Happaerts of DG Regio underlined that EU regional policies and funding are territorial and place-based. A large share of the budget for regional development is dedicated to environmental issues and the share has increased substantially over the last 3 programme rounds.

Axel Kristiansen asked Mr Happaerts if the Interreg North Sea Region Programme should use the place-based approach to environmental issues – as suggested by Mr Lamers – in its next programme period. The answer was a resounding YES!

The decision to present the 8th EAP will be in the hands of the next European Commission to take office following the European elections on May 26.

From left: Project Advisor Jesper Jönsson, Director-General for Environment Daniel Calleja and Project Advisor Axel Kristiansen. Mr Calleja acknowledged the contributions to a greener Europe provided by programmes such as Interreg, Life and Horizon 2020 in translating EU environmental policy into action.

Showcasing Interreg at the EU Green Week

At the EU Green Week, the North Sea Region Programme was part of the joint Interreg stand showcasing transnational projects that help turn environmental policy and law into action.

As part of this initiative, an exhibition and joint publication were produced that highlights environmental projects across Europe. Among the featured projects are the North Sea Region projects Sullied Sediments and Building with Nature.

>> See the #MadeWithInterreg joint publication

This joint Interreg publication showcases projects that foster a greener Europe.

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