European Environment Agency chief calls for long-term vision to achieve sustainable societies

Hans Bruyninckx, the European Environment Agency (EEA) Executive Director said EU member-states should adopt a long-term vision to enable the transition of sustainable societies, noting that most European countries are faced with serious sustainability issues.

In an interview with CNA, Bruyninckx also said that Cyprus although lagging behind the targets of sustainable development has ample opportunities for becoming a sustainable society.

Bruyninckx spoke to CNA on the occasion of an annual lecture held by the Cyprus University of Technology’s Faculty of Geotechnical Sciences and Environmental Management.

He said that unfortunately EU member-states are far from the target of the transition to sustainable societies, as stipulated in the 7th European Commission’s 7th Environment Action Programme.

The 7th Environment Action Programme, he said, guides EU environmental policies, states that our objective for the year 2050 is to live well, within the limits of our planet, meaning that all people on the planet should enjoy acceptable quality of life (adequate food, shelter, safety and health) without endangering the limited natural resources of earth, and without altering the planet’s climate and nature in an irreversible way. This aim, he noted, encompasses the definition of sustainable societies, reflected in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals adopted in 2015.

We are nowhere close to achieving this objective, Bruyninckx said, noting we need a fundamental shift in the way we produce and consume food and energy, the way we satisfy our mobility needs, and the way we organise our cities. Such fundamental shifts can enable the transition required to achieve sustainable societies.

Replying to a comment that Cyprus is lagging behind from the sustainable development goals, Bruyninckx pointed out that although most European countries are faced with serious sustainability issues, Cyprus has advantages that it needs to exploit.

He said Cyprus should explore solar energy, as the island has more sunshine days than any other European country, while the EU membership has has tremendously benefited your environmental policies.

There are ample opportunities for becoming a sustainable society. What you need (like all other countries) is a long-term vision to enable this transition, he said, adding that Cyprus could take advantage of large EU funds that are available for investments in climate-friendly technologies and protection of nature.

The EEA chief also said Cyprus could reform its tax system, making it consistent with the vision to become an economy that is very efficient in the way it manages its natural resources, its energy and its waste.

There is no alternative. Imagine a world with an average temperature of 4 degrees higher than in the pre-industrial era. Along with many other world regions, Cyprus may become unlivable. We need to act fast, and we have the knowledge to do so, he stressed.

Furthermore, Bruyninckx brushed aside the concerns that serious changes can only happen after a war or a natural disaster as unsubstantiated, pointing out that large transitions have indeed happened in the past even without conflicts or natural catastrophes, such as the industrial revolution, the rapid development of the Internet since the mid-1990s and the huge change in energy investments during the last few years.

On the EEA’s work, Bruyninckx said EU rules were impacted by the Agency’s work, such as the Commission’s 7th Environment Action Programme, or legislation on air quality.

He also noted that apart from the close cooperation with the Commission, the Agency has a very good working relationship with the European Parliament, where the knowledge we provide is taken very seriously, while expert assistance to our member countries and other international partners influences the decisions of numerous policymakers around the world, often in ways that cannot be explicitly reported.

For Bruyininckx, the EU will have a bright future and continue to be a role model for the rest of the world, as long as we citizens appreciate the huge achievements of the EU and encourage inspired leaders to resist the temptation of populism.

The EU, he said, can certainly continue to lead by example. Our setting is unique globally: 28 countries deciding voluntarily to agree on common policies in so many aspects, in a continent that has suffered so many wars in the past.

It does not happen anywhere else in the world. In the environmental field, we transfer our expertise and vision globally � we assist many large countries of the world in designing and applying sound environmental policies, Bruyininckx, concluded.

Source: Cyprus News Agency