32nd EPA Network plenary, Oslo

Photo: John-Petter ReinertsenThe European Network of the Heads of Environment Protection Agencies (EPA Network) held its 32nd plenary meeting in Oslo, Norway 21-22 February 2019, hosted by the Norwegian Environment Agency.

60 participants representing ca. 30 environmental organizations from across Europe took part, in addition to representatives from the European Commission and IMPEL.

Ellen Hambro, Director General of the Norwegian Environment Agency and the Agency’s Director of Communications, Kjetil Hillestad, opened the meeting with a presentation of the environmental developments and challenges of Norway, underlining the importance of the hydro power and oil sectors, debates on predators, monitoring of hazardous substances, the development of Carbon Capture and Storage technology, zero emissions vehicles, the importance of the EU emissions trading system and Norway’s relationship to EU regulation as a non-EU member.

The first session continued with the European environmental policy update given by Daniel Calleja Crespo, Director-General of the European Commission’s (EC) Directorate-General for Environment. As the current European Parliamentary cycle and EC mandate are soon ending, the Commission is focusing on finalizing the delivery of the current agenda. Looking beyond 2019, the EC emphasised the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), evaluation of the 7th Environmental Action Programme (7th EAP), discussions on a possible 8th EAP, as well as sustainable finance.

Gilles Gantelet, Director of Strategy in the Directorate-General for Environment presented the evaluation of the European Environment Agency (EEA) and its European Environment Information and Observation Network (EIONET). The evaluation concluded that the EEA/Eionet fulfilled their tasks in an effective and efficient way and that the EEA/Eionet deliver high-quality outputs underpinning EU environmental policy. An interactive discussion between the network and the EC followed.

The first session was concluded by an update and discussion on EEA activities and priorities, presented by Hans Bruyninckx, Executive Director of the EEA. Hans Bruyninckx highlighted in particular important upcoming and recently launched EEA reports; the December 2019 forthcoming launch of the report The European environment - State and Outlook 2020 (SOER 2020), the 2018 report “Unequal exposure and unequal impacts” and the annual indicator report for 2018 in support of monitoring the implementation of the 7th Environment Action Programme.

Georg Rebernig, Managing Director of the Austrian Environment Agency, 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 possible 8th EAP.

Mari Erlandsen gave an update from the Secretariat of the EPA Network on the latest Interest Group meetings and network activities. Bettina Hitzfeld from the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) Switzerland presented the Interest Group on GMOs’ technical report on “Monitoring of Spontaneous Populations of Genetically Modified Plant Species in the Environment”. Laura Burke, Director General of the Environmental Protection Agency of Ireland gave an update from the Interest Group on Better Regulation, and Maria Krautzberger, President of the German Environment Agency, presented the latest work of the Interest Group on Plastics. Georg Rebernig gave an update fromthe 2nd Stakeholder Conference on Eliminating Plastics and Microplastic Pollution co-organised by the Austrian Presidency, Environment Agency Austria, IUCN and the EPA Network last November in Brussels.

Georg Rebernig also updated the plenary on the inaugural meeting last November of the EPA working on Green Finance. The plenary agreed on the setting-up of an Interest Group on Green Finance, with the Environment Agency Austria as chair.

Hans Bruyninckx introduced the third session on New technologies and Copernicus in environmental monitoring and reporting. Chris Steenmans, Head of ICT and Data Management at the EEA illustrated how data from the Copernicus programme is currently being translated into information and products across Europe.

Ingunn Limstrand, Head of Section Environmental Data Management at the Norwegian Environment Agency presented examples from their agency’s use of environmental DNA, drones, environmental barcoding and artificial intelligence. John Dehls from Geological Survey of Norway and Dag Anders Moldestad from the Norwegian Space Centre presented InSAR Norway, an open and free map-based tool to detect and monitor landslides and urban subsidence.

A joint presentation from Stefano Laporta, President of ISPRA and Arnaud Leroy, President of the French Environment and Energy Management Agency Ademe, highlighted some perspectives on Copernicus from Italy and France, namely the use of marine and atmospheric monitoring services, as well as the envisioned system for monitoring CO₂ anthropogenic emissions.

Dr. Jonathan Derham, Head of the Evidence & Assessment Programme at the Environmental Protection Agency of Ireland shared ideas from that agency on using data to model possible futures and potential issues ahead of time. Two examples of Urban Waste Treatment plant performance and calculations of Land Use Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) were presented.

Discussions then took place on how EPAs might develop strategies and plans for the take-up and use of innovative technology, emphasising the importance of utilising networks and exchanging experiences.

The second day of the meeting started with an introduction to the topic of Local Climate Change Mitigation from Christian Holzleitner, Head of Unit, Land Use and Finance for Innovation, Directorate-General for Climate Action (DG-CLIMA). Michael Doust, Programme Director Measurement and Planning at C40, provided an overview of local action that facilitated a discussion on how EPAs can support mitigation activities at the local level, for example through facilitating quality data compilation and consistent reporting.

Richard Müller, Director of the Slovak Environment Agency, gave the plenary a presentation of that Agency’s green infrastructure catalogue and other local level initiatives in Slovakia. Audun Rosland, Director of the Climate Department in the Norwegian Environment Agency, emphasised communication, financial support and data as key approaches in supporting the local level. Discussions on local climate change mitigation continued in break-out groups before key points were summarised in the plenary.

In the closing Session, EPAs discussed several emerging issues and scientific advances, i.e human biomonitoring, environmental economics, sustainable infrastructure and research and innovation. Maria Krautzberger gave a presentation on assessing environmental costs. Plans for the next EPA Network plenary meeting, taking place on 26-27 September in Tallinn, were presented by Taimar Ala, Director-General of the Estonian Environment Agency.

Finally, the main conclusions and action points of the meeting were summarized.

Photo: John Petter Reinertsen