11th EPA Network plenary meeting, Ghent

The Network of Heads of Environment Protection Agencies held its 11th plenary meeting in Ghent, Belgium, on 15 - 16 September 2008.

There were 50 representatives from 24 agencies from 22 countries, as well as from the European Commission and the European Environment Agency (EEA). The European Commission was well represented in various areas.

The meeting was hosted by the Flemish Environment Agency, Belgium (VMM) who gave the plenary an overview of the work of the organisation and the state of the environment in Flanders. Philippe D'Hondt (VMM Head of Department) gave some facts and figures of Flanders in comparison with the EU, positioned the VMM in the Flemish and Belgian public administration and explained the organisation of the Flemish environmental policy. He also explained the mission and tasks of the Flemish Environment Agency. Philippe informed the members of the activities of MIRA (Environmental Reporting) and some regional indicators such as emission of greenhouse gases, passenger transport flows, potential acidifying emissions, etc.

Thereafter EEA gave a comprehensive overview of recent EU environmental policy highlights and related developments.

DG Environment informed the members about the status of the white paper on climate change and adaptation to be published in November 2008.  The interest group on Climate Change and Adaptation mentioned contributions to the green and white paper and its work in progress. The IG is preparing a report on the state of affairs in the member states. About 50% of the member states are involved in planning processes for adaptation. The main focus of the member states is on water and landscape problems and to a lesser extent on biodiversity and food security. The IG will make an in-depth analysis of 11 plans. DG Environment will be contacted to determine the main issues to focus on before the next meeting of the IG.

Continuing the discussions on carbon capture and storage (CCS) from the Network's last meeting, SEPA (Scotland), SFT ( Norway) and UBA (Germany) presented a joint paper describing the key environmental issues, as well as possible options and approaches. Members were invited to respond to the 20 questions in the paper by 20 October and indicate their interest in participating in subsequent discussions. It was decided to continue this work with wide contributions from EPA members and appropriate technical specialists, aiming to produce a further status paper and to arrange a meeting, possibly in Germany, in November and to report progress to the next plenary meeting.

Sustainable consumption and production was discussed, together with resource use. DG Environment gave an overview of the Action Plan on Sustainable Consumption and Production and Sustainable Industrial Policy (July 2008). During the discussion the following points were raised:

The focus of the Action Plan is on product policy and on continuous improvement of environmental performance of products. While the Action Plan moves forward considerably, the actions reinforcing SCP are not sufficient. It will be essential to enhance the policy to cover all products and significant environmental impacts. Green public procurement plays an important role in promoting more sustainable consumption. It will be necessary to revisit the resource policy when the review of the EU Strategy is more advanced in 2009.

While discussing the anthropogenic impacts on biota, DG Environment gave an overview of present activities in relation to GMOs, invasive and alien species. The Commission has mandated EFSA to carry out environmental risk assessment to be finished in spring 2010, the Communication on invasive species is expected to be adopted in autumn 2008.

The Swedish EPA informed the meeting about their findings regarding monitoring on Sucralose in the environment. Germany and Belgium (Flanders) reported on their work on ecotoxicological characterisation of waste (DE) and sediment (BE/FL).

The Interest Group on Biodiversity, led by EA England and Wales, informed the meeting about its plan to have a joint meeting with the Climate Change and Adaptation Interest Group and ENCA technical experts on 9/10 October in Copenhagen. The meeting will be held back-to-back with the Eionet workshop on Climate Change Adaptation. The theme will be how environmental protection measures and strategic land use can be used to help maintain and enhance wildlife interests in line with the EU Biodiversity Strategy. The intention is to explore the priorities for action in relation to (i) environmental standards required for the Habitats and Birds Directive, (ii) measures to achieve and maintain good ecological status under the Water Framework Directive, (iii) climate change adaptation measures and (iv) longer-term land-use implications of the CAP health check.

The outcome from the October workshop will then be transformed into a practical demonstration of what actions need to be taken and by whom. This proposed action plan could usefully provide the basis for a discussion in spring 2009 when the EPA Network and ENCA will hold a joint meeting

The Interest Group on Natural Resources, led by UBA Germany, reported on its progress. It has exchanged information and opinions on resource efficiency and natural resource management issues. Specifically, it has focused on the Thematic Strategy on sustainable use of natural resources and related assessment tools for use in the EU Resource Strategy and the OECD work on material Flow Analysis (MFA). Future work will focus on the introduction of MFA (Material Flow Analysis) and giving input to the European Communication on non-energy raw materials being developed by the Commission and expected to be finalised in 2008.

The Scottish EPA gave feedback from the awareness raising workshop on Environment and Health which took place in Oslo in April 2008 . The outcome of the workshop emphasised the importance of good and well targeted communication, awareness raising and, in particular, risk communication. The group will continue as a "virtual group" making use of the online discussion forum on the EPA Network website for their experts to exchange information.

The Interest Group on Contaminated Sites and Soil protection, led by ISPRA (former APAT) from Italy, has been exchanging information on good practices (questionnaire, case-studies) and the possible consequences of the Soil Framework Directive (SFD) in Member States. The activities have to a certain extent been influenced by the uncertainties surrounding the negotiation process of the SFD.

The Interest Group on Better Regulation, led by EA England and Wales, informed the meeting about the work of communicating the Oslo statement, the vision paper on improving the effectiveness of environmental regulation, endorsed by the plenary. The Vision Paper on Better Regulation has already been widely distributed and there are plans to promote the paper further through a workshop in Brussels in November 2008. BRIG is aiming to look at issues like sharing good practice, horizon scanning (screening legislation) , and making progress on the advocacy role, including updating reports already published (including the Prague statement) and looking at the regulation of small and medium enterprises. It was important for the group to continue to develop a broader vision on better regulation. 

The Slovenian EPA is leading an Interest Group on Quality Management which has been looking at "benchlearning" and identifying future activities: obtaining the data from new participants, continuing the discussion on process indicators in the selected fields, completing the "benchlearning" analysis, preparing the QA/QC survey in laboratories, preparing the 2nd IG meeting and reporting to the Locarno meeting.

The Interest Group on International Cooperation, led by SFT Norway, will in the short term focus on improving the survey format and completing the collection of relevant information from participating EPAs. A workshop will be held this year to identify, on the basis of the survey results, areas of special interest for exchange of experience. A final report of the survey will be presented at the Locarno meeting.

Following discussions in Oslo, a group of EPAs led by FOEN, Switzerland, held a meeting in Bern On 6 - 7 July 2008. The plenary agreed to establish an informal Interest Group, led by FOEN, to carry out a survey on the regulatory framework at European and national levels related to environmental risk and assessment of GMOs. This survey will complement the Commission's activities.

The next plenary meeting will take place in Locarno, Switzerland on 11 - 12 May 2009.