Finns focus on environment during EU presidency

Finland wants the European Union to take a closer look at what it considers the most pressing environmental concern facing the planet - the unsustainable consumption of natural resources - and that means businesses will be expected to boost their efficiency.

It also wants Europe to look at ways to promote a ‘one planet’ policy under the aegis of a genuinely global environmental body and consider how to make decision making more effective within the union.

As holder of the EU presidency, Finland will be hosting a meeting of Europe’s environment ministers in the city of Turku at the weekend.

As well as looking to the future of European environmental policy, the meeting will review progress made so far and how past successes can be built upon.

It will be the more efficient use of resources which will top the agenda, however, and likely to have the biggest impact on business.

“One key aim is that natural resource usage and the consequent harmful environmental impacts should not increase at the same rate as economic growth,” said a statement from the Finnish Ministry of the Environment.

“A society must be created where more can be made from less, more effectively.

“Innovative environmental policies can create new jobs while also reducing pressure on the environment. In the future the sustainable use of natural resources will become even more important throughout the life cycles of goods and services.

“Overexploiting natural resources and disrupting natural ecosystems can have serious impacts on people and their economic activities, as well as on the environment. In addition to traditional environmental protection measures such as reductions in direct emissions, new comprehensive ways of thinking are needed: we must learn how to use natural resources and still be able to return them into natural cycles – as suitably processed wastes, for instance.”

The ministry said the industrialised West could not compete with the labour costs in emerging economies, but could maintain the edge in terms of energy and materials efficiency, resulting in economic as well as environmental benefits.

It called for targets to be set for member states to boost the overall efficiency of the union. If the Finnish plan meets with approval, each country would be expected to draw up its own sustainable production and consumption strategy which would have to bee in line with targets set for the EU as a whole.

The meeting will also look at Europe’s environmental footprint outside the continent itself and how its hunger for raw materials is affecting the developing world.

In recognition that protecting the environment must be an international, not solely regional, issue the Finns will advocate the creation of a global environmental watchdog which could help steer policy around the world.

“Globalisation results in global environmental problems,” said the ministry.

“Which can only be addressed through more global environmental policies, through which the same rules are applied to everyone around the world.

“A global environmental organisation is needed to co-ordinate such global policies.”

Even if such an idea receives the support of ministers from other member states the road to establishing such an organisation looks set to be a long and rocky one, strewn with obstacles, when one considers the difficulty the international community has faced trying to reach an accord on greenhouse gas emissions, let alone come to a consensus on all environmental issues.

The Turku ministers meeting will run from July 14 to July 16.

Sam Bond

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