Colleagues of other member states,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I like the title you have chosen for your annual conference, "Sailing the winds of change". We are all feeling the winds of change, those of us forging ahead on environment policy in Europe. An icy headwind from Europe’s opponents and climate change deniers, but also a strong tailwind from hundreds of thousands of young people who take to the streets every Friday for the environment. This makes for turbulent times.
But we want to use this energy and create fresh momentum for environmental protection in Europe during the German EU Council Presidency. We want to demonstrate Europe’s capability to act on climate and environmental issues. It will pay off for all Europeans. Climate and environmental policy are a hallmark of our brand. This is why we, as Europe, are successful.
We can demonstrate this only by working together with all those who are fighting for more Europe and more environmental protection in Europe:
- with the Finnish and Croatian Presidencies, from whom I expect and have already received valuable inspiration,
- with the new Commission, which will press ahead with the European Green Deal by drawing up specific proposals underpinning it – some of which will certainly come into intense focus during the German Presidency –,
- with a strong EU Parliament, where environmental protection has taken higher priority since the last election,
- and last but not least, with a robust civil society, which, like the EEB, gives our policies critical but constructive attention.
If we in Europe show that we are serious about the joint project of environmental protection, we can motivate our international partners to join with us at the important conferences scheduled next year – the climate COP in Glasgow, the biodiversity COP in Kunming and the international conference on chemicals management in Bonn.
You already discussed our concrete projects for the German Presidency today with Director-General Karsten Sach. You know that we want to advance climate action, biodiversity conservation, chemicals policy, circular economy and other environmental topics. And that we want to adopt an ambitious new environmental action programme and push the long-term planning past 2030 – with the help of an EEB project.
I would like to speak about another topic tonight. Another wind of change that we want to harness for environmental protection – sustainable digital transformation.
The digital age’s environmental risks are clear:
- rising energy and resource use for electronic devices,
- greater transport and packaging volumes due to online retail,
- increasing electricity use. Bitcoin mining, for example, requires as much electricity per year as all of Denmark.
But digitalisation also has enormous potential for environmental protection:
- for sustainable energy transition,
- for low-emission mobility systems,
- for implementing the goal of a "true" circular economy,
- for monitoring environmental status.
We should use this potential. For this reason, in May this year, I presented some ideas for a digital policy agenda for the environment, which would include, for example:
- standards for efficient data centres and a European right to repair,
- support for start-ups planning to use environmental data for species protection and climate action,
- a funding programme for 50 lighthouse projects that use artificial intelligence for environmental protection and resource conservation.
At the informal Environment Council in July 2020, I want to discuss this and other ideas for a European digital agenda for the environment with my EU counterparts. I am aiming for concrete action and measures and proposals for legislative solutions, in order to secure the greatest possible protection for people and our planet in the digital era.
The European Union is the world’s largest economic area. If we set standards in the EU for sustainable digital transformation, it will resonate around the world. I want to make sustainable digitalisation part of Europe’s brand.
We live in turbulent times, buffeted by the many winds of change. I am looking forward to talking with you now about how we can use this energy to advance environmental protection in Europe.