The recent decision to withdraw the EU resource efficiency package is a worrying one. In a speech in March 2015, Mr Karmenu Vella, the EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, noted that:
“The decision to withdraw the waste legislative proposal was based on the need to better align it with the priorities of the new Commission. The Commission has decided to undertake a thorough reflection on how the objective of circular economy can be reached in a more efficient way that is fully compatible with the jobs and growth agenda”.
When Mr Vella took up the post in December 2014, he was tasked by European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker with reviewing the package which had been developed by his predecessor Janez Potočnik and approved by the European Parliament in July 2014, to ensure that it met the jobs and growth agenda of the new Commission.
It is important that the jobs and growth agenda are met, and there have been strident calls to this effect for example from Business Europe who recently called for it to be re-tabled as an economic rather than environmental package. However, it is also vital that the environment plays a central role in the formulation of the new package. Indeed, according to a recent report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, since 2000, the global price of commodities (e.g. food, metals, fuel) has risen sharply and become more volatile. Indeed, while the average standard deviation of the price index of commodities between 1980 – 2005 was 4.1%, this jumped to 15.1% in 2005 – 2012. In Europe, while material use in the EU-15 has stabilised, in the EU-27 it is growing in line with population growth. The continent’s ecological footprint (i.e. the area needed to meet Europe’s resource demand) is twice the size of its land area. The EU is heavily and increasingly reliant on imports to meet its resource needs, with some 20 – 30% of the materials used, being imported. This level of consumption and waste of resources is unsustainable. On a recent trip to Brussels it was interesting to get a feel for the amount of deal making that takes place. In the weeks and months ahead, it will therefore be very interesting to see: (a) if it does indeed emerge in some format in 2015 and (b) whether the environment, particularly the resource agenda is able to form a central pillar, as it should do.