EU experts debate natural resource use

Ecotaxes, product policy, technology R&D support, seen as best way to reduce asset depletion

Economic instruments are the most effective way of reducing future use of natural resources, a meeting of experts convened by the European Commission has concluded. The meeting was organised as part of preparations to draw up the EU's sixth environmental action programme, in which quantifiable targets to achieve better management of both renewable and non-renewable resources are expected to feature.

According to the expert group, "most pressing action" should concentrate on abating pollution from poor resource use and on preserving "life-supporting resources" such as water, soil and biodiversity. Economic instruments such as environmental taxes are the "most obvious" way of achieving this, they say in a report on the meeting just published by the Commission. Two other instruments mentioned were integrated product policy - a subject on which the Commission is currently drafting a separate policy paper - and improved research and development of resource-saving technologies.

The meeting revealed a fundamental split on whether the EU should pursue a "weak" or "strong" resource sustainability strategy. Under the first view, natural capital such as dyes or medicinal substances from plants can be replaced to a large extent by man-made alternatives, while the second states that only long-term preservation of natural capital will guarantee sustainability.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111, and report on the workshop.

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