Europe Celebrates Green Week 2003

BRUSSELS, Belgium, June 5, 2003 (ENS) - Europe's annual Green Week has taken center stage across the continent this week with high level ministerial meetings, 26 conference sessions, workshops, exhibitions and events featuring environmental issues.

As part of European Green Week and the United Nations World Environment Day today, Green Days have been organized across Europe from May 30. Their objective is to focus attention on World Environment Day and to highlight European action in support of environmental protection.

The largest forum of environmental debate and interactive exchange of views between stakeholders in the European Union, Green Week 2003 is dedicated to turning the commitments made at last summer's Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development into concrete action.

The slogan for Green Week 2003 is “Changing our behavior," indicating that the time for action, rather than words, has arrived.

On the ministerial side, the first International Conference of the Johannesburg Renewable Energy Coalition (JREC) was held Wednesday in Brussels with more than 150 delegates from 80 countries participating.

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The Wulfshagen wind farm in Schleswig Holstein, Germany has six Micon 2000/72 machines, among the largest wind turbines in the world. (Photo courtesy NEG Micon)
The outcome of the JREC conference is a set of strategic priorities that the coalition will pursue in its work. They include strengthening the financial instruments promoting renewable energy, and a road map outlining the coalition's activities in the run-up to next year's World Conference on Renewables in Bonn, Germany.

JREC was founded during last summer's World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. It brings together more than 80 countries that are willing to increase the share of renewable energy in the overall energy mix by using concrete targets and deadlines.

"The result oriented outcome of this conference, the inspiring discussions and excellent ideas put forward have filled me with confidence that we will achieve our goal," said Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom, who chaired the conference.

Energy use has increased 20 fold during the 20th century and continues to rise. Since the end of last century, the EU's demand for energy has been steadily growing at a rate of between one and two percent per year. At the moment, the share of renewable energies in the EU's energy mix is about six percent.

The European Community target for 2010 is 12 percent of gross national energy consumption, and 22 percent for electricity produced from renewable energy sources in total Community electricity consumption. The renewables included in this definition are wind, solar, geothermal, wave, tidal, hydropower, biomass and landfill gas energy.

While it was concluded that the public sector has to play an important role to stimulate the flow of investments, there was overall agreement that the private sector has to become the engine driving the development of renewable energies.

"This conference has highlighted once again that renewable energy is at the heart of sustainable development and that it can contribute to reducing poverty in developing countries," Wallstrom said. "The coalition has the potential to increase its use, which will make a real difference."

Wallstrom launched Green Week Monday with UN Environment Programme Executive Director Klaus Toepfer. Both officials identified a key objective as securing "behavior change" to achieve "a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle" under the general banner of greening production and consumption patterns.

In France, at the Bassin du Drugeon, a new French Ramsar site designated as of World Wetlands Day February 2, officials have prepared a week of activities centering upon the site's new status under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. There was a public conference on Tuesday, and today inaugural ceremonies for the new wetlands site of international importance were held.

Other topics being debated include EU policies on packaging, resource use, green procurement, waste recycling, chemicals, climate change, green electricity and corporate environmental responsibility.

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Prince Laurent of Belgium joins EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom at a European Commission Green Week event. (Photo courtesy European Commission)
In her speech opening Green Week 2003, Wallstrom said the world’s resources will be enough to satisfy the needs of everyone even in 50 years time, if humans learn to use them more efficiently, more equally. "We have to cut the link between economic growth and environmental degradation and depletion of natural resources," she said.

"Reaching sustainable patterns of consumption and production will require a change of behavior," Wallstrom said. "We have to liberate ourselves from well established thinking and behavioral patterns, look differently at how we are consuming and producing, identify key measures. Our aim need not be to consume and produce less, but rather to consume and produce differently and better – to make more from less."

Today, World Environment Day, the Green Week debate focused on water. Discussion centered on the EU Water Initiative and on how to combat the growing problem of floods. Delegates were able to participate in a tasting session of drinking water samples taken from cities across Europe.

Wallstrom presented the annual report on bathing water quality for 2002. The report presented today confirms the results seen in previous years with a high percentage of bathing sites being in compliance with the compulsory standards in the law. The compliance rate for coastal sites is 95.8 percent, and for freshwater sites 91.1 percent.

The encouraging results for 2002 were achieved despite the torrential rainfall and floods, which occurred in central Europe in August and September 2002. One worrying aspect of the 2002 results was the tendency of some EU member states to ban bathing at sites which showed poor compliance or to de-identify such sites rather than addressing the causes of pollution that led to the poor bathing water quality.

Speaking at the press conference to launch the 2002 bathing season report, Wallstrom said, "The impact of water quality on bathers is a clear demonstration of the linkages between environmental quality and human health. The susceptibility of children to gastric infections and respiratory illnesses associated with swimming in polluted waters underlined why we need to maintain our vigilance."

A Green Week 2003 exhibition in the Charlemagne building includes 62 stands, featuring projects realized by environmental organizations and networks, businesses, consumer organizations, educational and research establishments, and national, regional and local authorities.

Cyber stations with Internet access were available for participants throughout the week. A meeting point facilitated contacts between participants and stimulated informal discussions.

An Art Gallery will permanently display the winning entries in the Green Week 2003 painting and sculpture competitions. About 50 works will be on display, featuring the creativity and vision of children aged five to 16 from around the world.

In Trento, Italy, an exhibition, workshops and conferences on environmental education have been in progress since May 26 and will continue through Saturday.

Birmingham, England is marking Environment Week with displays and events each covering a different environmental theme each day organized by the Birmingham City Council. Environmental issues related to food, health, noise pollution, business, technologies, and waste all received attention this week.

Aberdeen

Young people beat drums for the environment at Aberdeen's first Green City Fund Day in 2002. (Photo courtesy City of Aberdeen)
In Aberdeen, Scotland, Green Day will take place at Aberdeen Beach on Saturday when the second Green City Fun Day and Sale is expected to be the biggest environmental event the city has ever seen. Interactive stands and exhibits will provide entertainment and education on the environment while adults can attend workshops on such subjects as home composting.

Hungary's Veszprém County is participating in Green Week with practical activities such as tidying up after construction of sewage works, planting flowers, collecting litter, and maintenance of inland water drainage ditches. Veszprém County Council today hosted an International Environmental Protection Conference centered on local capacity building for environmental protection.

Secondary schools in Eastern European countries are introducing environmental topics in their curricula by using Green Pack, a multimedia educational package put together by the Regional Environmental Centre for Central and Eastern Europe (REC).

"We cannot change the national educational curricula, but we can adapt to them," said Robert Atkinson, head of programs for REC, who attended the Green Week Conference in Brussels.

To date, Green Pack has been used in Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria. It is now being introduced in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Macedonia. Green Pack is aimed at secondary school students aged 12 to 16. The package containing a CD, a video tape and a manual focuses on environmental topics and is distributed for free.

Commissioner Wallstrom brings the curtain down on Green Week 2003 with a gala evening and awards ceremony at Brussels' Résidence Palace tonight. The Environment Awards recognize the achievements of local authorities and urban networks in promoting urban sustainability and mobility, environmentally friendly public transport services and public greenways.