33rd EPA Network plenary meeting, Tallinn

Photo: Raul MeeThe European Network of the Heads of Environment Protection Agencies (EPA Network) held its 33rd plenary meeting in Tallinn, Estonia 26-27 September 2019, hosted by the Estonian Environment Agency.

Around 50 participants representing around 30 environmental organisations from across Europe took part, in addition to representatives from the European Commission and the European Union Network for the Implementation and Enforcement of Environmental Law (IMPEL).

Taimar Ala, Director-General of the Estonian Environment Agency opened the meeting with a presentation of Estonia, the Estonian Environment Agency and the country’s environmental situation, emphasising in particular the digitalized Estonian society. Stand-up comedian Karl Alari Varma then presented participants with a more informal perspective on Estonian society and culture.

Environmental policy updates

The first session Opening and update on EU environmental policy continued with the European environmental policy update given by Executive Director of the European Environment Agency (EEA), Hans Bruyninckx. He emphasised the changes in the EU context and implications for the EEA and Eionet, highlighting in particular President-elect Ursula von der Leyen’s political guidelines for the new European Commission (2019-2024), the process of developing an 8th Environmental Action Programme, the Multiannual Financial Framework for 2021-2027, the State and Outlook Report on Europe’s Environment 2020 and the process of developing a new EEA/Eionet strategy (2021-2030).

Paola Migliorini, Deputy Head of Unit, Sustainable Production, Products and Consumption in the European Commission’s (EC) Directorate-General for Environment followed with an update from the Commission, followed by questions and discussion in the plenary. Migliorini then presented the status of implementation of the Circular Economy Action Plan adopted in December 2015, followed by discussion.

Network activities

Georg Rebernig, Managing Director of the Environment Agency Austria (Umweltbundesamt, EAA) opened the second session on Network activities and news from Interest Groups with an update on a draft letter from the EPA Network on a 8th Environmental Action Programme. Maria Krautzberger, President of the German Environment Agency, followed by presenting a draft document from the EPA Network on the Non-Toxic Environment strategy, originally mandated to be developed in the 7th Environmental Action Programme. Mari Erlandsen from the Secretariat of the EPA Network provided the plenary with an update on the latest Interest Group meetings and network activities, including the new EPA Network website.

Photo: Raul MeeJohan Schutten from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), co-chair of the Interest group on Citizen Science, presented the latest activities of their group via video link. Urs Walker from the Federal Office for the Environment Switzerland and co-chair of the Interest group on Noise presented their draft technical report on critical noise values. Terry A’Hearn, Chief Executive at SEPA and co-chair of the Interest group on Better Regulation, followed with a short update on the group’s latest activities. Lea Kauppi, Director General at the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) informed the plenary on the latest activities of the Interest group on Green and Circular Economy, co-chaired by Finland and Germany.

Maria Krautzberger and Georg Rebernig followed with an update of the Interest group on Plastics and their recent report on littering. ISPRA kindly offered to replace UBA Germany as co-chair of the Interest Group and will now chair the group together with EAA Austria.

Communicating Environmental knowledge

Katja Rosenbohm, Head of Programme Communications at the EEA, introduced the third session, titled “Communication of Environmental Knowledge in an Era of mistrust in Science, Facts and Institutions” by presenting the changing landscape of communication on climate and environment and implications for the EEA December launch of the State and Outlook for the Environment report 2020. Tarmo Soomere, President of the Estonian Academy of Sciences, presented to the plenary the challenge of connecting science, society and policy.

Laura Schoen, Deputy Press Officer at UBA Germany presented experiences from the German debate on ambient air quality standards. Hans Mommas, Director-General of PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency presented experiences from the debate related to the recent Dutch Climate Agreement. The session continued with a panel debate and discussions around strategies for EPAs to communicate environmental knowledge.

Implementing Circular Economy

The topic for the second day and fourth session of the meeting was Implementing Circular Economy. Hans Bruyninckx introduced knowledge, skills and governance approaches for systemic (circular) transitions and the new EEA report “Circular Economy in Europe: Insights on progress and prospects”.

Photo: Raul MeeSeveral national EPA case studies on Circular Economy were presented: i) Tiina Karppinen from SYKE presented CIRCWASTE, a project that promotes material efficiency and waste prevention, ii) Bernard De Potter, Director-General of the Flemish Environment Agency, presented experiences from Flanders on adapting EPA portfolios to a circular model, iii) Ado Lõhmus, Attaché at the Permanent Representation of Estonia to the EU in Brussels, presented how digitalization can unlock circular business models, and iv) Christian Bruhn Rieper, Deputy Director General at The Danish Environmental Protection Agency, presented Circle House, a Danish solution for circularity in the construction sector. A discussion on Circular Economy followed, where participants also supported a joint EEA/ISPRA proposal for a High level event on Monitoring Circular Economy in Bellagio, Italy, May 2020.

Next meeting April 2020

In the fifth and closing session, EPAs discussed several emerging issues and scientific advances. Participants agreed on a letter to First Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans, offering the experience of the EPA Network in designing and delivering the European Green Deal and inviting Mr Timmermans to attend the next EPA Network plenary meeting, taking place on 20-21 April 2020 in Berlin.

The Scottish Environment Agency kindly offered to co-host the Interest group on Green Finance together with the Environment Agency Austria. Under AOB it was also emphasised that in the event of the UK leaving the EU, EPA network participants will continue to include the current constituents. Christina Pykonen presented plans for the upcoming Berlin meeting, before finally, the main conclusions and action points of the meeting were summarised.

All photos: Raul Mee