Environmental Technologies Action Plan (ETAP)

In January 2004 the Commission launched an action plan to stimulate the development and use of environmental technologies. The action plan aims at removing financial, economic and institutional barriers to the development of environmentally friendy technologies. The Commission sees it as a bridge between the EU’s sustainable development strategy and the Lisbon agenda.

Environmentally-friendly technologies are less polluting, use less resources, and recycle more wastes and products than their alternatives. They can therefore act as a bridge between the EU's sustainable development strategy (as defined by the Gothenburg European Council) and the Lisbon objectives to make Europe the "most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy" in the world.

The development of these technologies, however, is being hampered by market barriers and other obstacles. In order to remove those obstacles and with the intention of establishing the EU as world leader in developing and applying environmental technologies, the Commission presented on 29 January 2004 its Action Plan for Environmental Technologies (ETAP).

The EU already has a very competitive and succesful eco-industry. According to a 2006 report, the estimated turnover of eco-industries in the EU-25 is 227 billion euros. Goods and services provided by eco-industries represent around 2.2% of EU-25 GDP and more than 3.4 million people are working in these industries.

The proposed actions have three main objectives:

  • To help make the transition from research to markets (by increasing and focusing research, establishing technology platforms and networks for technology testing);
  • To improve market conditions (by setting performance targets, leveraging investment, creating incentives and removing economic barriers, promoting environmental technologies via public procurement, building support for environmental technolo gies in civil society);
  • To act globally (by promoting environmental technologies in developing countries, and promoting responsible foreign direct investment).

The Commission will monitor the implementation of the plan and will report to the European Council and the Parliament every two years. A European Panel on Environmental Technologies will be set up to exchange information between all stakeholders. With the Member States, the 'Open Method of Co-ordination' will be used to exchange ideas on best practices, develop indicators, set guidelines and timetables.

The  first implementation report on ETAP was published on 27 January 2005. Its recommendations are:

  • to establish "green investment funds" to mobilise risk funding, especially for small and medium-sized companies; 
  • te define environmental "performance targets" for key products, processes and services;
  • to urge member states to produce "national road maps" for implementation of ETAP, with concrete measures and deadlines, and to draw up national action plans for green public procurement.

In this report on ETAP, the Commission also stated that current state aid rules already allow for the provision of incentives for environmental technologies. Work to revise the guidelines for environmental state aids will start in 2005.

On 29 September 2005, the European Environment Agency organised a workshop on eco-innovation indicators.

Member States are expected to put in place national strategies and present national roadmaps  by the end of 2005.

The European Committee of Environmental Technology Suppliers Association (EUCESTA), which represents over 800 environmental technology companies in Europe, welcomed the action plan. However, EUCESTA pointed to the internal "political infighting in the Commission" which "has created a plan that sidelines the key role of environmental regulation and enforcement in creating demand for environmental technology". EUCESTA's Chairman, Tom Vereijken, said the EU must recognise that a key driver for environmental technologies is high environmental standards "created by regulation and green taxes".

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) highlights business innovation and related intellectual propoerty protection as a key aspect to derive value from the development of environmental technologies. A key question for the WBCSD is "how to balance private rights and public good in this context". For companies, writes the WBCSD, the problem is often "to understand the challenges and opportunities involved in creating a more sustainable world". The WBCSD has been focusing its strategy on eco-efficiency solutions to make lesser use of natural resources with less impact on the environment without hampering industrial production or the development of new economies such as China.

Other European industry circles have been looking forward to this environmental technology action plan. Immediately after the launch of the plan, EuropaBio, the European Association for Bioindustries, greeted the fact that 'white biotechnology' (industrial manufacturing of products using micro-organisms and enzymes to make goods like vitamins, detergents, biofuels) was given "the thumbs up in the new EU eco-strategy".

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