Speech given by Minister of Environment and Climate Change Krista Mikkonen during an exchange of views with the European Parliament's ENVI Committee on 23 July 2019

Uutinen 23.7.2019 klo 17.28

Dear chair, honorable members of the European Parliament. It’s my pleasure to be with you today. I would like to share with you the plans of the Finnish Presidency of the Council in the field of environment and climate.

Let’s start with hard data. 

June 2019 was the warmest June on record both for Europe and the globe. The rate of global change in nature in the past 50 years is something we have never seen before in human history. These are key messages from Copernicus data and IPBES global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services. These messages, along with the IPCC 1.5 degrees report, demonstrate that the window of opportunity to prevent irreversible damage to the planet and humanity is narrowing quickly. 

In other words, we must take the necessary actions and decisions now. We must be honest to ourselves and to our citizens: we have a systemic challenge and it should be the starting point for making European policies in the next five years. It’s in this global setting, and in a moment of institutional change in the EU, that Finland has taken over the Presidency of the European Union. A challenging, but crucial time. 

The new European Parliament and European Commission will take their first steps during the Finnish Presidency. We have noted with interest the debate the European Parliament held with – the now confirmed – President of the European Comission, only a week ago. We want to drive together a positive agenda and help in building the response to the two key challenges of our time - climate change and biodiversity loss. 

What will this agenda mean in practice during the six-month Presidency?

Regarding climate and environment, the Finnish Presidency will have three priorities: 

  • EU’s global leadership in climate action
  • ambitious work for biodiversity post-2020 
  • and advancing circular economy. 

First, EU’s climate action. 

A key priority of Finland’s Presidency is the EU’s global leadership in climate action. We already have the most ambitious targets among the industrialized economies in place and a binding legislative framework that will deliver our current commitments. But we must not stop here. For the European Union, global leadership means committing to climate neutrality by 2050. We aim to advance the process to reach a common agreement on the main elements of the EU’s long-term climate strategy before the end of the year - as requested by the European Council. 

We will have a number of sectoral policy debates in the Council to advance work on the needed conditions, the incentives and the enabling framework. Formal Council debates on issues related to the EU’s long-term climate strategy take place in the Council of Employment and Social Policy, Transport, and Environment.  Some other council formations and informal ministerial meetings will also address topics related to the transition towards climate neutrality. 

In addition, preparations for the September UN General Secretary’s climate action summit took place in the Informal Environment and Climate Ministers’ meeting in Helsinki two weeks ago, where we had a sincere discussion about the EU’s common message to the Summit. What I took from this discussion was that in addition to giving strong signals of our commitment to the finalization of our long-term strategy, we have a strong story to tell. We have a legally binding 2030 framework and we have also taken climate policies to the relevant sectoral policies and EU budget. The EU also remains committed to communicate or update its NDC by 2020. 

We have important political decisions ahead of us, and a lot of work still needs to be done in order to have the EU’s long-term vision ready by the end of the year. We will also lead the preparation for the COP25 in Chile and Council Conclusions on this will be adopted in the October Environment Council.

Our second priority, biodiversity, was also a topic for discussion during the informal meeting of Climate and Environment Ministers. 

We will now go on with all the necessary follow-up work and discussion. The aim is to adopt Council conclusions in the December Environment Council. The harsh truth is that we are severely lagging behind our goal for stopping the loss of biodiversity, both in Europe and globally. The problem is not in the goal. It is in the implementation. Habitat loss, unsustainable practices in the ways we manage our land and waters and the increasing use of natural resources are crucial parts of the problem. 

My key take-away from the biodiversity discussion with Member States is that there is a strong will for a credible and measurable global biodiversity framework for the next decade. We also have a shared understanding that stopping biodiversity loss is not only about nature conservation. Biodiversity should be taken account in all relevant sectoral policies, just as climate change.

The Finnish Presidency will start work for ambitious EU position for the Convention on Biological Diversity and its Conference of Parties (COP15) that will agree on a new post-2020 global biodiversity framework in October 2020 in Kunming, China.The aim of the Finnish Presidency is to find common ground and prepare for the upcoming negotiations on biodiversity, as well as give clear input for the post-2020 biodiversity framework.

Our third priority is the circular economy. 

Circular Economy can be part of the solution to the dual challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss; shifting to a truly circular economy can offer ways to address the sustainability crisis. We plan to adopt Council Conclusions on the Circular Economy in the October Environment Council. The Circular Economy was also discussed by Climate and Environment Ministers in Helsinki two weeks ago. The circular economy means managing ecosystems in a way that allows them to regenerate – in order to conserve major ecological services and restore natural resources, while meeting the socio-economic needs of current and future generations. 

The outgoing Commission paved a strong start for circular economy with its ambitious action plan. During our Presidency, we want to give the new Commission a strong message to continue with circular economy also in the next five years. There are a number of sectors, such as construction, textiles or electronic equipment, where a great amount of resources are being wasted.

With the proper policies and standards in place, we could keep raw materials circulating in the European economy and producing value for a longer time. We should design products in a way that makes it is easier to repair or re-use them. The circular economy reduces the need for the virgin raw materials and brings down emissions and pressure on the environment. Moreover, the competitiveness of European industry will rely on a more efficient and sustainable use of resources. Circular economy simply makes sense, no matter from what perspective you look at it.

The success of these three priorities, and of policy in general, lies in good implementation. 

Here, we already have good tools available at the EU level. One of the programmes with clear impact in the field of climate change and environment policy is the 7th Environment Action Program (EAP). It lays down a solid strategy and creates strong links with national measures. The 7th EAP has also contributed to more predictable, faster and better-coordinated actions in the field of environment and climate change policy, and enables the EU to speak with one voice in international environment negotiations. The 7th EAP runs until the end of next year, but many actions under its priority objectives still need to be completed.

For these reasons, the Finnish Presidency will also be aiming at adopting Council Conclusions as a positive push for the Commission to present the 8th EAP, to build further on the achievements of the 7th and ensure a continued strategic framework for climate and environment policy action. 

Turning now to open legislative files during the Finnish Presidency.

On the two legislative files concerning drinking water and water reuse, the aim of the Finnish presidency is to start and finalize trilogue negotiations with the European Parliament. On shipping MRV, we aim to finalize Council’s position during our presidency. On LIFE, we are very much in the hands of the European Council and the MFF negotiations, but if possible, we hope to close this file.

This committee and your work has been, and will be, central in the next five years, if we are to succeed in driving a positive agenda and building the response to the challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss. Looking still at the broader picture, the Common Agricultural Policy together with sustainable finance will be two crucial drivers of the transformative change we need. Even though the Environment Council is not responsible for these policies on the Council side, these discussions will be advanced by the Agriculture and Fisheries Council and the Economic and Financial Affairs Council respectively.

An integrated, cross-sectorial approach is what we should strive for; we need to better integrate our climate and environment policies with other policies, starting with the work we do here on an everyday basis. This is why the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development both globally and internally, needs to be a priority of the EU. 

This brings me back to the global setting, with which I started my speech. 

We have made good progress in recent years when it comes to climate and environment, and the SDGs more broadly - both internally in the EU, and globally. But, the science is clear, as is the demand by civil society that is growing louder and louder: We need to do more, and the work must start immediately.  The window of opportunity is closing fast – but, to end at a more optimistic note – we still have a window of opportunity. We have important political decisions ahead of us.

Dear Members of the ENVI committee: I wish you dedication, wisdom and passion when you carry out your work for the next five years. I look forward to working with you to lead the response to the key challenges of our time. Thank you.