12th EPA Network plenary meeting, Locarno

The Network of Heads of Environment Protection Agencies held its 12th plenary meeting in Locarno, Switzerland, on 11 - 12 May 2009.

The 52 participants represented 31 agencies and came from 25 European countries as well as from the European Environment Agency. The environment protection agency of Montenegro attended as an observer. DG Environment from the European Commission regularly attends the plenary meetings on invitation.

The meeting was hosted by the Federal Office for the Environment, Switzerland (FOEN) who gave the plenary an overview of the work of the organisation and the state of the environment in Switzerland. The Director of FOEN, Bruno Oberle, presented facts and figures of Switzerland and emphasised that environmental policy is a policy of resources and therefore also a policy of economics and trade.

Switzerland and EEA gave brief presentations on environment and trade and the influence by legislation. The importance of the interlinkages between resource use, in particular energy use, and environmental impacts were emphasised. Legislation was regarded as a very important instrument to minimise anthropogenic impacts on the environment and has proven effective.  However, close monitoring of its effects is needed and other management tools should also be utilised to a fuller extent to minimise anthropogenic impacts. The financial crisis is likely to influence the operation of most of EPAs, yet at the same time it will also provide opportunities for various green approaches.

During the discussion many important points were raised such as the need to make the environmental cost more visible and the importance of internalising the full environmental costs to a greater extent than at present. The most crucial task for EPAs is to communicate to the public and industry the impacts of present activities and the use of good practices. Members considered it important to establish a 7th EAP to support coherent action in the field of environment and will draft a note to the Commission outlining the EPA perspective. Approaches to the "green new deal" will be further discussed at the next plenary meeting in Dublin.

EEA gave an overview of the present status of knowledge regarding climate change and current approaches to adaptation. At present ten EU countries have finalised their adaptation plans. Austria informed the meeting about the involvement of citizens in the discussion on adaptation through a conference held in March 2009. During discussions the work of the Interest Group on Climate Change and Adaptation was welcomed, and the importance to communicate adaptation plans to the public was stressed.

During the joint session of EPA and ENCA networks, members were informed by EEA about the most recent events and ongoing policy processes related to biodiversity. The general picture is quite clear: biodiversity is being lost in spite of significant efforts to counteract some of the drivers of this loss. DG Environment informed members about ongoing environmental policy processes within the Commission.

Switzerland gave a presentation on the economic evaluation of environmental damage and emphasised that timeliness and state of the art technology are needed for economic evaluation to function both as a motivator and as a tool for policy making. To meet this challenge there is a need for consistent standards and methodologies and the use of other indicators besides monetary ones.

During the discussion on cooperation between the EPA and ENCA networks, it was recognised that there are somewhat different agendas. However, it was emphasised that the networks would benefit from working closely together at interest group level in order to avoid duplications. Furthermore, the secretariats were tasked to be in close contact and to share information on issues of common interest.

Switzerland informed the meeting about activities of the Joint ENCA EPA Interest Group on GMOs and the outcomes of a survey done by the group. The work of the group was endorsed and the proposed work programme approved. 

The Interest Group on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), led by SEPA Scotland, informed the meeting about its activities and about the paper it presented to the Commission in December 2008. The issue of CCS has developed quite rapidly and there was substantial interest to continue the work of the interest group, focusing on technical and regulatory aspects.

The Interest group on Climate Change and Adaptation led by PBL, Netherlands informed the meeting of its findings regarding adaptation plans, and in particular that many new members seem to lack the structural capacity to come up with an adaptation plan in time. The Interest Group presented a draft paper containing suggestions to the White Paper of the Commission. The final document will be presented to the Commission during this spring.

The Interest Group on Better Regulation, led by EA England and Wales, informed the meeting of its activities. The group has presented its vision paper to the Commission and was planning to hold a meeting with DG Environment in the autumn.  It is working closely with IMPEL which is preparing a joint checklist to apply to relevant proposed legislation. 

The Interest Group on Biodiversity, led by EA England and Wales, held a joint meeting with ENCA and the Interest Group on Climate Change and Adaptation in association with a European Environment Information and Observation Network (EIONET) meeting on climate change. In furthering ideas of close cooperation on technical levels between the networks, an electronic web-based Directory is in development as a means of sharing knowledge and expertise across the EPA and ENCA networks. This should help to take forward key work areas such as developing environmental standards, achieving Water Framework Directive objectives and effective climate change adaptation.

The Interest Group on Natural Resources, led by UBA Germany, has been working on two papers, one on Material Flow Analysis, which was presented in a draft form to the meeting, and the other on detailed development of the European raw materials initiative. The latter paper will be sent to members in June. Both papers will be discussed further in Dublin.

The Scottish EPA reported on progress regarding Environment and Health. There have been no meetings since the workshop held in Oslo in spring 2008, but a platform for a "virtual group" has been established. The work of the IG itself is to be ended, but the virtual forum will be used as a support for the development of inputs for the Ministerial meeting in 2010.

The Interest Group on Contaminated Sites and Soil Protection, led by ISPRA Italy, has been focusing on soil contamination and SFD consequences in member states. It is continuing exchange of information on legislation and best practices regarding soil management via questionnaires and case-studies collection involving many EPA network members. The IG is also focusing on soil & climate change and soil biodiversity looking at the work carried out by other relevant groups and networks. The IG works closely with DG-JRC to facilitate the implementation of the European Soil Data Centre.

An Interest Group on Quality Management, under the leadership of the Slovenian and Italian EPAs, conveyed a survey on Quality Control and Quality Assurance of laboratories among members. The survey is a very useful platform for further IG activities with the aim to tackle specific problems of QA/QC, related to environmental monitoring and assessment. The group has also been looking at "bench learning" and has identified activities to work further on.

The Interest Group on International Cooperation, led by SFT Norway, has been mapping involvement of EPAs in international activities, exchanging information and experiences. International cooperation will be presented as a broader issue at the next meeting in Dublin.

The next plenary meeting will take place in Dublin, Ireland on 17-18 September 2009.