29th EPA Network plenary, Stockholm

The European Network of the Heads of Environment Protection Agencies (EPA Network) held its 29th plenary meeting in Stockholm, Sweden, on 25-26 September 2017.

The meeting was hosted by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency. About 60 participants representing around 30 environmental organisations from across Europe and representatives from the European Commission and IMPEL took part in the meeting.

The meeting was opened by Björn Risinger, Director General of the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency. Stockholm’s Environment Vice Mayor Katarina Luhr pointed out that Stockholm wants to act as a role model for sustainability. The Swedish Minister of the Environment, Karolina Skog, stressed Sweden’s commitment to reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 11 on sustainable cities, and informed about her plan to introduce the first national policy on cities.

After this introduction, the participants proceeded to discussing EU environmental policy. Gilles Gantelet (DG Environment/European Commission) and Hans Bruyninckx (EEA) updated the plenary on the most recent developments in EU environmental policy and the ongoing and planned work of the European Commission and the EEA. Among the topics discussed were sustainable finance and how policy makers can better link to citizens.

Session 2 was opened with a keynote address by Sander Happaerts from DG REGIO (European Commission), who presented how EU Cohesion Policy supports sustainable cities and regions. DG Environment pointed to the importance of mainstreaming environmental policies into EU structural funding. This was followed by five presentations from Environmental Protection Agencies (EPAs) on how they support cities in becoming more sustainable. Possible approaches included strengthening the knowledge base on cities (e.g. through indicator development and using satellite imaging) and new governance approaches (e.g. partnerships between EPAs and cities). The heads of EPAs concluded that sharing experiences at a European level on how to support cities provides them with valuable input.

In session 3 participants presented and discussed the activities of the EPA Network since the last plenary meeting in April 2017. The chairs of the Interest Groups on Better Regulation, Green and Circular Economy, GMO and Plastics updated the plenary on the progress made in the last months. The Interest Group on Plastics, for example, organised an Expert Conference on the EU Plastics Strategy in June 2017 in Brussels. Last but not least, the EPA Network discussed the results of a survey on the role of the EPA Network and the document that it produces and agreed on the format for future EPA Network publications.

The 2nd day of the meeting started with a session on open data to meet environmental challenges. Mario Campolargo from DG DIGIT (European Commission) presented the new European Interoperability Framework. This was followed by four presentations from EPAs which presented their strategies for environmental data management and open data. Given the increasing amount of available data, EPAs play an important role in analysing and assessing this data in order to create knowledge on the environment. Ownership of data was identified to be a complex issue because more and more data with relevance for the environment is owned by private companies.

In the closing session, EPAs presented emerging issues and scientific advances. The European Environment Agency presented how Copernicus information is used to support environmental policy implementation, the Norwegian Environment Agency presented their approaches to combatting marine litter and microplastics and the National Environmental Protection Agency Romania presented their work on ecosystems mapping in support of decision-making processes. Finally, the main conclusion and action points of the meeting were summarized. The next EPA Network plenary meeting will take place on 12-13 April 2018 in Dublin.