Major boost needed to green technology use

The EU has made progress in encouraging green technologies, but their use must be dramatically increased if they are to have an impact on climate change and other major environmental problems, says a review of the EU environmental technologies action plan.1

The action plan was launched in 2004 with the aim of stimulating "eco innovation and the take-up of environmental technologies on a broad scale" (ENDS Report 349, pp 57-58 ). It received a boost a year later when the overarching Lisbon agenda called on governments to do more to support green technologies (ENDS Report 363, p 59 ).

The European Commission says the programme can claim some notable successes, with environmental industries employing 3.5 million Europeans and accounting for more than 2% of EU GDP.

The Commission predicts double-digit growth figures for renewable energy technologies. Water management and waste recycling also are expected to grow at 6% and 4.5% per year, respectively.

Technological advances are central to EU plans for tackling climate change and air pollution. By 2013 the action plan will have channelled over ยค12 billion of public and private money into environmental technologies.

But the Commission is unequivocal that more can and must be done to push things forward. "We need to do much more to make environmental gains on the scale required," it says. "To start making a significant difference, much greater levels of deployment and take-up of environmental technologies are required at EU and global level."

While most member states have good policies to promote research and development, this is not matched by measures to generate demand.

The review urges governments to use public procurement to create markets for green products and make greater use of market-based instruments and financial support to help business and consumers switch to green technologies. A Communication on green procurement later this year will set voluntary targets and offer guidance on the use of indicators and benchmarking.

Poor verification of environmental technologies is also hindering the setting of performance targets and standards for products. This issue was raised in the first review of the plan in 2005, but little progress seems to have been made. The Commission will issue legislative proposals in 2008 on verification of environmental technologies and a Communication on performance targets.

The review also says attention should focus on sectors like building, transport and food and drink whose products have major impacts and where there is potential for "sustainable growth".

Other recommendations include setting up a system for sharing best practice between member states, and raising awareness of the alternatives available among businesses and consumers.

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