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EU Environment Ministers

Volume 461: debated on Tuesday 12 June 2007

On 1-3 June, I met Environment Ministers from EU Member States, candidate countries, the EFTA countries and the European Commission, at an informal Ministerial meeting in Essen, Germany on the theme of “Environment-Innovation-Employment”. We discussed issues relating to the main challenges and opportunities in the field of eco-innovation. The discussions were productive and I attach the chair's conclusions for Members’ information.

Ministers recognised that environmental technologies and eco-innovations are one of the strongest pillars of Europe's economy. If we are to maintain economic growth and European prosperity then simply continuing to operate in the way we have done is not an option. We must move to a more efficient, sustainable and low carbon economy. To achieve this, Ministers noted that we must create new solutions and technologies.

At Spring European Council, Member States called for the Commission to propose in 2008 an integrated strategy for the promotion of eco-innovation, and this discussion was a chance for Environment Ministers to offer guidance on what it should contain. In this regard, Ministers discussed the need for efficient and ambitious policies that support enterprise and eco-innovation. We discussed a potential review of the impact of key EU policies on eco-innovation, upcoming opportunities such as the review of the Lisbon strategy and the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, and the potential of economic instruments to promote eco-innovation. The Commission's work on lead (or priority) markets in innovation, green public procurement and the existing Environmental Technologies Action Plan, would all make a contribution to this. Such a comprehensive approach should lead to more sustainable patterns of consumption and production, while enabling the EU's businesses to take leadership in expanding global markets for green technologies.

Demand for low carbon and resource-efficient products and technologies is set to grow fast. Environmental performance will therefore play an increasingly important role when it comes to competitiveness. Ministers discussed a number of different policy instruments which could support the innovation process and which could contribute to the integrated strategy for the promotion of eco-innovation. Ministers therefore emphasised that the joint efforts of policy makers in all sectors, will be crucial to create the market conditions that will incentivise the increases in investment that will enable a transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient economy.

I highlighted that any approach to eco-innovation and the transition to a low-carbon economy must work with market forces, where governments seek to intervene to address instances of market failure. It would also be important to work closely with industry to better understand the economic opportunities and what governments could do to help. We should use better regulation to create the right conditions for new technologies to compete on the mass market, and ensure a consistent long-term policy framework gives the private sector the security they need to make investments, citing the Climate Change Bill and Energy White Paper as examples of the UK approach to achieving this.