The commissioner also said he supported more global attention to chemical hazards in line with the EU’s REACH regulation.
Potočnik’s remarks came ahead of a scheduled meeting today with Chinese environmental officials. China is locked in a mounting dispute with the EU over its new emissions regulations on airlines and recently lost a trade challenge with the EU and other parties over Beijing’s export restrictions on vital raw materials.
Potočnik said the EU’s own environmental standards offer a global model for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, better resource efficiency and improving the sustainability of agriculture.
Saying Europe has “the duty and the responsibility” to take the lead at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in June, the commissioner called on countries to strive for binding milestones rather than general goals.
“We are trying to work hard to ensure that we will obtain concrete results,” Potočnik said in a speech about the 20-22 June conference in Rio de Janeiro, “and I can safely say that a day will not pass by in the coming months where the Rio outcome will not be discussed in our contacts with international partners.”
On 30 January, the UN’s Global Sustainability Panel released draft recommendations for the Rio meeting, calling sustainable development a way to reduce poverty while energising anaemic economies through technology investment and resource efficiency.
But there are doubts about how much will come of the lengthy recommendations made in the 'Resilient People, Resilient Planet' report and how ambitious leaders meeting in Rio will be to make commitments when many are grappling with economic woes at home.
Ida Auken, the Danish environment minister whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, also pledged recently to make Rio a priority. But she acknowledged in an interview with EurActiv that current economic conditions pose a challenge in achieving measurable goals at Rio.
Potočnik’s remarks came during a meeting on sustainable development at the European Economic and Social Committee, an advisory body for EU policymakers in Brussels.
He called for setting milestones on sustainability, saying the EU is “not just speaking from the podium.”
“We have placed moving to a resource efficient, low-carbon economy at the core of our economic strategy, and as a way out of the current financial crisis towards sustainable growth,” he said.
Speaking to journalists, Potočnik also said he favoured including chemicals regulation in the Rio talks on sustainability. The risk posed by “chemical pollution” is mentioned once in the 99-page UN document.
“I can’t say binding or not binding, but I would say more concrete,” Potočnik said.
Referring to the REACH regulation on chemicals, he said: “We have reached a level of commitment in the European Union that is high, and we are seeing already that in some parts of the world they are very closely studying the way we have approached the programme and we think it’s a proper moment to address this in Rio.”
The current chemicals directive, which took effect in 2007, is due for revisions this year. Consumer and health groups pressing for ambitious changes while some national governments – including those in Slovakia and the Czech Republic – say tougher rules would hamper economic recovery.