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Janez Potočnik's speech in full

Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for the Environment, spoke at the opening of the Industrial GreenTec Fair, about the role of the EU Industry to lead the green economy.

“When I was approached to give my patronage to the Industrial GreenTec Fair, I was of course honoured and immediately agreed. First of all I saw it as an opportunity to highlight the contribution of environmental protection to industrial development.

But then I also realised that I should also draw attention to the enormous opportunity that EU industry has to play the role of the global leader in sustainability and competitiveness.

The EU is well equipped to take on this role. Eco-industries in the EU have a turnover of hundreds of billions of Euro, between 2 and 3% of our overall GDP. And they have grown at between 6% and 8% per year during the crisis period. EU eco-industries provide well over 3 million direct jobs, again with a growth rate of about 7% during the crisis period.

Why is this? It is because our industries and services have applied their creativity and their innovation to helping us achieve the objectives that are set out in European legislation to protect our environment and health. It is no accident that the biggest eco-industry sectors are in waste management – at 30%, water supply – 21%, wastewater management – 13%, and recycled materials – also 13%. These just happen to be the areas where Europe leads the world in environmental standards.

And the fastest growing areas are in areas where we have developed legislation more recently, such as renewable energy – growing at 13% per year, and recycled materials – growing at 18%.

Our excellence in these areas means that EU engineers are at the cutting edge of technology in areas where emerging economies have growing needs: in cutting air pollution, generating water-efficiency and managing waste. Renewable energies will be increasingly important, such as offshore wind power generation, where Europe has a global lead.

European businesses should seek to build on their advanced position in the cleaner conventional energy renewable energy, energy efficiency, water treatment equipment, solid waste treatment operations, mechanical and biological pre-treatment of waste, waste tyre recovery, air quality and emissions monitoring equipment and environmental consulting services.

The list of European expertise in environmental technologies is actually far longer than this. And the great display of knowledge and capacity seen at this Industrial GreenTec Fair is far more impressive. Front runners we see here presented at the Inwater Solutions or Bioeconomy stands are followed by many others.

We should be proud of our European capacity and continue in our efforts to export our technology and our know-how to emerging and developing countries.

And we should also stop seeing our higher standards in Europe as just a cost and a burden. They improve our quality of life, and they put out companies at the front in international markets.

Public authorities have an important role to play in this promoting our eco-industries. At European, regional and local level, we should continue to develop the right framework conditions and help provide specialist advice and finance facilities for SMEs throughout Europe. SMEs are often faced with market failures due to longer returns on investment and difficulty in penetrating well established markets.

2014 is a key year for European funding opportunities because it is the first year of a new budgetary cycle spanning the next 7 years. Public authorities at all levels should ensure that innovative green businesses take full advantage of the opportunities offered by the Structural funds, the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, and the COSME enterprise programme by increasing awareness and by supporting the participation of potential beneficiaries.

My desire and ambition is to get eco-innovative solutions in traditional sectors, as well as eco-industries, recognised and taken up by markets. I have already explained how we in Europe have a lead in many of these markets, but we must not stand still.

There are so many inefficiencies around us today:

  • turning coal into light is still only 3% efficient,
  • only 15% of the energy you put in your petrol tank is used to actually move your car down the road,
  • 80% of what we produce is used once and discarded,
  • 80% of resources are used by 20% of the earth’s population
  • Only 1% of the valuable rare earths that we use in products are recycled at the end of the products life.

As a former European Commissioner for Science and Research I have great faith in the capacity of European researchers and businesses for creativity and innovation. We need to channel this creativity and innovation to tackle these inefficiencies and to find solutions that will improve the quality of our lives and our environment.

And the more efficient our industries become, in our use of resources and energy, the more chance we have of keeping those industries in Europe and remaining competitive on the world stage.

Thank you.”

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