Various Documents considered by the Committee - European Scrutiny Committee Contents

8 A resource-efficient Europe



COM(11) 21

Commission Communication: A resource-efficient Europe — Flagship initiative under the Europe 2020 Strategy

Legal base
Document originated26 January 2011
Deposited in Parliament1 February 2011
DepartmentEnvironment, Food & Rural Affairs
Basis of considerationEM of 14 February 2011
Previous Committee ReportNone, but see footnotes
To be discussed in CouncilNo date set
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared


8.1 A Commission Communication[45] in March 2010 "Europe 2020 — A strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth" identified a number of so-called flagship initiatives, one of which relates to a "Resource efficient Europe". This aims to support a shift towards a low-carbon economy which is effective in the way it uses resources, and in particular to decouple economic growth from resource and energy use and promote greater energy security. The Commission has now sought in the current document to outline how those objectives might be achieved.

The current document

8.2 The Commission says that, in order to enjoy the benefits of a resource-efficient and low-carbon economy, three conditions must be met — coordinated action, enjoying political visibility and support, in a wide range of policy areas; urgent action to take account of the long investment lead-in times involved; and enabling consumers to move towards resource-efficient consumption, thereby encouraging innovation and ensuring that efficiency gains are not lost. It says that the aim of this initiative is to boost economic performance whilst reducing resource use; to identify and create new opportunities for economic growth and to boost the EU's competitiveness to ensure security of supply of essential resources; and to fight against climate change and limit the environmental impacts of resource use. It goes on to suggest that this in turn requires technological improvements, a significant transition in energy, industrial, agricultural and transport systems, and changes in the behaviour of producers and consumers: and it stresses the need to take immediate action in order to give businesses the certainty they need to invest now.

8.3 The Commission says that the EU has already shown that progress on resource efficiency is possible, with recycling having become a normal practice for businesses and households; a 10% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions having been achieved since 1990, at a time when EU economies have grown by about 40%; and reliance on fossil fuels having been reduced. However, it also points out that there is now a need to accelerate progress, and to extend efforts to other areas, by means of a strategic and integrated approach which optimises synergies and mainstreams resource efficiency into a wide range of policies.

Exploiting synergies

8.4 The Commission notes that the complex and interlocking approach needed can only be achieved with a policy mix which optimises synergies and addresses trade-offs between different areas. Thus, typical synergies would involve the benefits for energy security arising out of action on climate change, the benefits in terms of air quality, noise and public health associated with the reduced emissions arising from low-carbon technologies, the reduced pressure on the demand for primary raw materials arising from increased recycling, and the reduced pressure on land resources and infrastructure needs as a result of improved energy efficiency.

8.5 At the same time, it says that resource-efficiency policies need to address trade-offs by considering the whole life-cycle of resource use. For example, just-in-time production processes (and waste collection and recycling) may reduce the energy needed to store products, but may also require more transport; "green" vehicles may reduce the use of fossil fuels, but increase the demand for electricity and certain rare raw materials; land used to produce food may compete with that used for energy (and both may compete with land which supports biodiversity); insulation materials can reduce the energy needed to heat a building, but be more resource-intensive to produce; expanding nuclear power can reduce carbon emissions, but give rise to problems of safety and waste management; and desalination may address water supply problems, but increase fossil fuel consumption.

Delivery of the resource-efficient initiative

8.6 The Commission says that a key aim is to increase certainty for investment and innovation by forging a long-term agreement, which ensures that resource efficiency is factored in a balanced manner into all relevant policies, such as climate change, energy, transport, industry, raw materials, agriculture, fisheries, biodiversity and regional development.

8.7 In particular, it says that the key components of the long-term framework will involve a series of coordinated roadmaps to:

  • outline what the EU needs to do to create a low-carbon economy by 2050, cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95%, whilst improving energy security and promoting sustainable growth and jobs;
  • analyse how the EU can create an energy system by 2050 which is low-carbon, resource-efficient, secure and competitive, so as to provide the necessary certainty for investors, researchers, policy makers and regulators;
  • present a vision for a low-carbon, resource-efficient, secure and competitive transport system by 2050 which removes all obstacles to the internal market for transport, promotes clean technologies and modernises transport networks;
  • define medium and long term objectives and the means for achieving them, the main aim being to decouple economic growth from resource use and its environmental impact.

8.8 The Commission goes on to identify medium term measures which are consistent with that framework. These include:

  • an energy efficiency plan with a 2020 time horizon to identify measures to achieve 20% energy savings across all sectors, followed by legislation to ensure energy efficiency and savings;
  • proposals to reform the Common Agricultural Policy, the Common Fisheries Policy, Cohesion Policy, energy infrastructure and trans-European networks for transport in the context of the next EU budget;
  • a new EU biodiversity strategy for 2020 to halt further loss, and restore ecosystems;
  • measures to tackle the challenges in commodity markets and on raw materials so as to ensure sustainable supplies, including the promotion of extraction, recycling, research and innovation and substitution inside the EU;
  • a strategy to make the EU a "circular economy", based on a recycling society with the aim of reducing waste generation and using waste as a resource;
  • early action on adaptation to climate change in order to minimise threats to ecosystems and human health, support economic development, and help adjust infrastructure to cope with unavoidable climate change;
  • a water policy aimed at saving water and increasing efficiency, so as to ensure the availability of sufficient quantities of water of appropriate quality.

8.9 The Commission goes on to observe that resources are often used inefficiently because information about the true consumption costs is not available, preventing businesses and individuals from adapting their behaviour, and it says that policy measures must place greater emphasis on "getting prices right" and making them transparent, for example by the use of smart metering, so that they reflect the full costs of resource use to society. It adds that EU-wide coordinated public support for R&D and innovation will be important, and that policies to increase resource efficiency should be well balanced and address both the demand and supply sides.

Building up the knowledge base

8.10 The Commission says that any analysis of initiatives must be based, where possible, on common assumptions, parameters and baselines, and that it proposes as a first step to present in early 2011 joint modelling scenarios up to 2050 on climate, energy and transport policies. In the meantime, it observes that preliminary modelling results suggest that an 80% domestic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 compared with 1990 is possible using technologies such as carbon capture and storage, renewable energies, nuclear power and electrification, with the power generation, residential and industry sectors able to secure reductions of more than 80%, the transport sector by around 60%, and the agricultural sector by around 40%. However, it cautions that the need for action in such a broad range of areas means that modelling is particularly complex, and cannot capture fully the interdependence of policy measures: as a result, further analytical work is being carried out on the estimation of economy-wide impacts.

The global dimension

8.11 The Commission suggests that the global dimension of key environmental issues requires the EU to address resource efficiency issues internationally and to cooperate closely with key partners. In particular, it says that this is due to growing international awareness of the strategic importance of avoiding risks to the supply of resources, to mitigate the rise in global demand, and to promote exchanges of skills, technology and best practice, and that the EU must further increase its work in these areas to bolster its competitive position. It also believes that the EU should continue through its external commercial relations to continue efforts to provide a level playing field for industry, to improve conditions for the sustainable supply of raw materials, and to promote the liberalisation of trade in environmental goods and services. It adds that the EU has a strong interest in deepening cooperation on resource efficiency with international partners, in order to encourage a shift to cleaner modes of energy generation and transmission, with a Rio+20 conference in 2012 focussing on the green economy and environmental governance.

Governance and progress monitoring

8.12 The Commission says that the EU needs tools to monitor and measure progress on resource efficiency, and that, although some key benchmarks are already provided in the Europe 2020 headline 20-20-20 targets, it is working to ensure the availability of appropriate indicators to cover issues such as the availability of natural resources, where these are located, how efficiently they are used, waste generation and recycling rates, impacts of the environment and biodiversity.

8.13 The Commission also points out that effective governance and monitoring are essential to ensure that the EU achieves greater resource efficiency, and that such actions are closely linked to other flagship initiatives under the Europe 2020 strategy, notably those on industrial policy, the innovative union, the digital agenda, and the agenda for new skills and jobs. It says that governance and monitoring will take place within the framework of the Europe 2020 strategy, and will integrate the relevant elements of the EU Sustainable Development Strategy in order to ensure overall coherence.

The Government's view

8.14 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 14 February 2011, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Lord Henley) says that the Communication does not have direct policy impacts, but rather outlines the policies that are likely to form the basis of future Commission proposals across a broad range of dossiers. It may also have procedural effects because it is an incentive to improve policy preparation and co-ordination in the Commission and other institutions.

8.15 He says that the Government received the Communication positively in a letter to the Commissioner, particularly the intention to provide coherence and embed resource efficiency between the various policy strands and within the context of better regulation, the need for a sound evidence base, and the commitment 'to promote the liberalisation of trade in environmental goods and services so as to ensure industry's international competitiveness'. However, it has cautioned against a presumption for targets, given potential perverse impacts and the large differences between Member States.

8.16 The Minister also says that the current absence of a concrete plan of action is an opportunity for the UK actively to develop proposals which will inform and contribute further to the development of the forthcoming roadmap to a resource-efficient Europe, and that a "non-paper" setting a more concrete UK position is being developed, addressing sensitive subjects mentioned in the Strategy, such as the need for resource efficient targets for Member States. Also, a review of resource efficiency support to business is currently underway and would provide useful evidence for input to the development of the EU roadmap.

8.17 The Minister says that the UK will wish to emphasise the EU's responsibility to take greater action around the single market to support the competitiveness of EU manufacturing, and that it would also welcome a greater emphasis on the need to close the loop for critical resources in the EU economy, together with the development of secondary reprocessing industries to reduce dependence on virgin resources. 


8.18 Although this document purports to be a strategy, in reality it comes across as little more than a catalogue of the broad areas where further action is needed, and gives little or no indication of how the various objectives are to be achieved. Consequently, although we are drawing it to the attention of the House as one of flagship initiatives under the Europe 2020 strategy, we see no need for any further consideration, and we are therefore clearing it.

45   (31373) 7110/10: see HC 5-xiv (2009-10), chapter 1 (17 March 2010). Back

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