Speech by José Manuel Durão Barroso – President of the European Commission – REGIONS20 Conference/Vienna

31 January 2013

Chancellor Faymann,

Governor Schwarzenegger,

Director-General Yumkella,

Prime Minister Ponta,


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear friends,

Chancellor Faymann already set out many of the challenges which our planet faces, at the intersection of our energy needs and climate protection; challenges which we must work together to overcome – for the benefit of our and future generations.

And let me, dear Werner, congratulate you, not only for your energetic speech, but also for the leadership Austria and yourself are showing in this very important priority for the European Union.

Indeed we have no time to lose. We are rapidly approaching the threshold of an increase of 2° C above pre-industrial temperatures. The effects of this are already being seen around the world: sometimes in an obvious catastrophic manner, but also less visibly as incremental changes impact on our daily lives.

We need to work together, certainly, because the challenges we face – from atmospheric warming to energy insecurity – simply know no borders; but also because tackling these issues means going beyond traditional economic thinking and traditional political methods.

Here is the importance of this R20 Conference: to act as a catalyst for innovative thinking, new solutions and real action in the ground. I therefore applaud Governor Schwarzenegger for his vision to create the R20 initiative, which builds such diverse and strong alliances for climate action and sustainability, in the United States and also internationally. Thank you for your initiative.

Economically, we cannot deal with the challenges of the 21st century with a growth model from the 19th and 20th century. Also politically, it is important that new approaches are explored across the board.

Regions20 is a shining example of this new mind-set in business and in government at the regional level, because it draws on so many stakeholders and their expertise. In many respects the work of R20 is similar to that of the European Union, as it connects different actors on all levels to cooperate on common challenges – to be stronger together.

Within the European Union this has been our successful working method of more than half a century, but we too have evolved. Sustainability is now deeply engrained in all our policies.

The European Union’s leadership on energy and climate matters is based on our ambitious climate and energy “package” up to 2020. I’m proud that the European Commission initiative during my first mandate was approved unanimously by our Member States, and is now a global reference point. This policy framework is based on three headline targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions (minus 20%), renewable energy (reaching a share of 20%) and energy savings of also 20%. We are well on our way to achieving these targets.

Furthermore, climate and energy policies stand at the heart of the Europe 2020 growth agenda. This agenda has also been agreed unanimously by our Member States. It sets out our clear united commitment to ensuring long term smart, inclusive and – above all – sustainable growth in Europe.

As importantly, we have mainstreamed this thinking into the external actions of the European Union: from climate negotiations per se to the “greening” of our international aid, which we provide as the world’s most generous donor.

2012 saw two landmark international conferences: The Rio+20 Summit and the Doha conference on climate change.

In both, we did not unfortunately achieve all that we wanted. But we have set out a detailed and operational agenda for the future. So I believe some progress is being made. Not enough, but some progress is being made.

And this is particularly the case for Rio+20, which confirmed our common vision of an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable future for the planet for present and future generations. More specifically, the concept of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the principle of which was agreed in Rio de Janeiro, will be a valuable tool for the future if implemented correctly.

The EU is currently working hard to flesh out these SDGs in more detail and feed them into our broader global development agenda.

This is not just good intentions – we are committing the resources to make our political will a reality. The European Commission has earmarked almost 2 billion Euro for projects related to the Rio outcome for 2012 and 2013 – with a total of around 8 billion Euro for sustainable development in general.

Climate action and sustainable development are two faces of the same coin: global warming undermines development opportunities and exacerbates poverty, notably in most vulnerable countries, and ultimately becomes a major security issue as a “risk multiplier” for food scarcity, migration and regional instability. This is why we will vigorously pursue the post-Doha climate agenda, too, towards a comprehensive global climate treaty that should be agreed by 2015 and in force by 2020.

In all of this you who work at the sub-national level have a vital role to play. Your actions, for example R20’s low carbon projects, bring global initiatives closer to the people, to the citizens, demonstrating that sustainability is not just “short term pain for long term gain” but can also bring clear benefits to people’s day to day lives here and now.

This daily buy-in is vital for sustainability to succeed. Of course, the current economic situation makes it difficult to find the resources for some projects. The European Commission recognises this and we are therefore re-orienting our regional policy to ensure more focused support on actions which support smart sustainable growth and jobs.

Let me give one local example; the European Commission is providing 5.6 million Euro to support what is known as the “Green Building Cluster” in Lower Austria. The regional government is working with 200 partners, not just on research and innovation, but on concrete actions such as renovating and improving the energy efficiency of old buildings, thereby creating smart sustainable growth and real jobs.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This last example shows one thing in particular: The key to the future is forging deeper partnerships between all actors at every level. Global, national, regional and local governments certainly, but we must also work even more closely with the business sector. I have spoken about the need for a new mind-set; this applies to us all, including business, and particularly to how business interacts with government and citizens.

There is a clear business case for “green investing”. The terms “green” and “growth” are not in contradiction. Building a low-carbon economy is essential to prevent climate change from reaching dangerous levels. It is also a huge opportunity to boost prosperity and get us out of the current crises. Let me give you briefly a few examples:

The global market for green technologies is worth 1000 billion Euros per year, and expected to double or even triple by 2020. In Europe alone, just over the last five years, more than 300 000 new jobs were already created in the renewables sector; and it is estimated that fully meeting the EU’s 2020 climate and energy goals, which I just sketched, would result in another 1.5 million new jobs related to such clean technologies. If we meet our Europe 2020 energy efficiency targets, we could create around 4.8 million new jobs through the direct and indirect impact of these measures.

The jobs already created and the benefits ahead of us come about by seizing the opportunities which a more resource-efficient economy presents; often, these are very straightforward ideas: from detergents which work in cold water to more efficient shipping, from smarter building codes to recycling precious metals.

Our EU climate and energy policies with their clear targets did not only provide incentives to such developments, but gave Europe and its businesses a first-mover advantage in many fields – not just in niche markets, but across the industrial chain.

The Clean Fuel Strategy which the European Commission adopted earlier this month is another example of how an EU-level approach adds value and unites fragmented national measures to create conditions for a new sector to flourish.

The package of measures will ensure the build-up of alternative fuel stations across Europe with common standards for their design and use. By proposing a package of binding targets on Member States for a minimum level of infrastructure, we hope to break the vicious circle of no demand for vehicles because there is no supply of fuel and no supply of fuel because there is no demand for vehicles. In this way we hope to “jump start” the sector, creating new opportunities in Europe and potentially across the world.

Ladies and gentlemen,

These examples all demonstrate the advantages of our current European efforts. But there is also another lesson to be learnt. All these examples required significant financial investment. This was made possible by confidence in the future direction of policy. Creating this climate of confidence in turn required a considerable political investment to look beyond day-to-day issues and have the courage and vision to develop a long-term strategy.

The next essential challenge is clear:

By 2030 global greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced by 40% to be on the right track towards the agreed target to constrain atmospheric warming to 2°C. At the same time, it is also clear that we need to continue providing business with long-term regulatory predictability, to boost and lock-in low-carbon technologies.

That is why the Commission is already strategically reflecting on the post-2020 horizon, both domestically and internationally. What types of climate and energy targets should we envisage? What are the best instruments to pursue them? And how would those interact with other, notably national instruments, from taxes to state aids to building codes?

Secondly, how can we further improve the interplay between our climate objectives and the need to foster European competitiveness? Because let’s face it: What underlies the current debt crisis in several European countries is, at its heart, a crisis of competitiveness.

That is a key question in my view: Because obviously our policy does not operate in an economic or political vacuum. To be clear again: I do not see energy and climate policy as contradictory to fostering Europe-wide competitiveness, but – if done smartly – as mutually reinforcing. So we will keep an eye on this dimension of competitiveness, and of energy costs, too.

Thirdly, how should we take account of the international situation regarding a new global climate agreement? This is a moving target that we need to factor in, too. The EU will continue to lead from the front in these talks, not from behind – but we need to stay realistic too: We only account for 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions. So it would be wrong to assume that Europe alone could shoulder all this burden – we want a new green deal on the global level, but one through which all emitters contribute their fair share.

These are just a few of the strategic questions we are currently reflecting upon. But regardless of the concrete answers that the Commission will prepare in the course of this year, one thing is certain: We will plan and implement our response in very close consultation not just with our EU Member States, with the regions, cities and communities of Europe, and of course with our global partners, but also with the business community and with civil society. Going for it together – that is the only way to deal with this challenge of a generation – and it is not enough to have good technocratic proposals, it is not enough to have good political agreements, we need the support of our citizens.

To sum up: Yes, the challenges we face are immense, and they will possibly even become more complex in the future. A global consensus is essential among governments on all levels, but also, and above all, among peoples. I firmly believe that it is possible to achieve sustainability without shutting people out of development. On the contrary – this is agenda for development and global growth. And energy plays an essential role in this and must be the heart of all our policies in the years to come.

That is why we need to equip our European Union with the necessary tools. In just over a week we expect the European Council to fix its position on the European Union’s budget from 2014-2020; it means setting out the resources we will have available to implement our policies for the next 7 years.

The European Commission has proposed that at least 20% of the resources available would be targeted on sustainability, across all policy areas, from agriculture via research to foreign policy. We will continue making the case in the decisive talks for such a future-oriented budget that invests in the green drivers of growth.

Mr Chairman,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I have so far resisted making any references to the great cinematic career of one of the next distinguished speakers. But let me conclude by saying, Governor Schwarzenegger, that this is not yet our “last stand”, but we all need to be a little more like climate “action heroes” and do more, individually and collectively, to save our planet in peril, and to boost smart and inclusive sustainability. We the European Union will continue to do our share, and I am certain that everyone here in this room and the people you represent will do the same.

I thank you for your attention.


Source: EU Commission press release, 31/01/2013