How green is the renewed strategy on EU Outermost Regions?

On 24 October, the European Commission published its new Communication on the Outermost Regions (ORs). Titled A stronger and renewed strategic partnership with the EU's outermost regions, the Communication puts forward an updated approach to foster development in the nine outermost regions of the EU – Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique, Mayotte, Reunion Island and Saint-Martin (France), Canary Islands (Spain), the Azores and Madeira (Portugal).

IEEP participated in the preparation for this renewed strategy by supporting the expert working group on “Green and Circular Economy in the Outermost Regions (https://ieep.eu/publications/green-and-circular-economy-in-the-outermost-regions)”. This article highlights the green and circular economy aspects of the Communication from the perspective of IEEP’s analysis.

 

Building on natural capital

One of the main messages of the Communication is that ORs have unique natural assets that could be better utilised to foster cutting-edge research and innovation. In particular, ORs can build on an exceptionally rich biodiversity that forms the basis of many key sectors, including tourism, fisheries, agriculture, and forestry, and several growing sectors, such as natural bio products and biomedicine. Moreover, the Communication acknowledges that healthy ecosystems provide crucial goods and services to society, including climate adaptation and mitigation. It further elaborates on the importance of blue economy and agriculture for the socio-economic development of the ORs.

The Commission encourages the ORs to value their natural assets and explore new opportunities in areas such as bioeconomy and climate change (e.g. low-carbon transport, energy efficient solutions). This can be done by taking full advantage of available EU financial support, including the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI). In addition, the Commission commits to consider providing specific support for the conservation of biodiversity and sustainable use of ecosystem services. The Commission will also seek to maintain specific arrangements for the ORs in the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and to bear in mind the specific needs of the ORs when launching calls to support the blue economy under the European Maritime Fisheries Fund (EMFF).

 

Circular economy

The Communication views the circular economy as an important and promising area of growth for the ORs, especially as their economies are small and remote, and depend heavily on imported resources. The Communication acknowledges that waste management poses a particular challenge because of limited infrastructure, lack of economies of scale, and in some cases growing population and seasonal waste generation caused by tourism. Further steps towards a circular economy are seen as providing economic opportunities and fostering innovation. Certain ORs have already developed good practices for efficient resource use, such as the use of bio-waste as compost for public gardens and parks in the Canary Islands, which can be mirrored in other territories. Furthermore, the Commission encourages the Member States and ORs to investigate the potential of circular economy to generate employment and growth, for example through sustainable tourism.

According to the new Communication, the Commission will introduce a project topic in the LIFE 2018-2020 work programme on waste, aimed at exploring circular economy oriented solutions for waste management in the ORs. The Commission also commits to support the ORs in developing circular economy pilot projects and will consider taking measures to facilitate shipments of waste from the ORs to neighbouring countries for treatment, at least whilst it results in higher environmental standards for waste treatment. This could address the lack of economies of scale or infrastructure for waste treatment within an OR, and allow ORs to work together, or with their surrounding areas and the European mainland, to manage waste.

 

Will the renewed strategy deliver for sustainability?

The renewed strategy on EU ORs ‘reads’ green, with emphasis on the specific context of ORs and related requirements for sustainability. These specificities were identified in IEEP’s “report (https://ieep.eu/uploads/articles/attachments/48cc702e-9e86-4383-9ff6-64bfee597bd9/IEEP%20(2017)%20Green%20and%20Circular%20Economy%20in%20Outermost%20Regions%20-%20FINAL.pdf?v=63668287356)” and include the ORs’ small size, remoteness, vulnerability to climate change, economic dependency on a few sectors, and for most also insularity. The Communication also acknowledges that the ORs’ rich biodiversity is a unique asset and commits to several measures that can support the green and circular economy transition. In accordance with IEEP’s analysis, these measures relate to research, innovation, education, and stronger partnership through e.g. the creation of an ad-hoc, multi-stakeholder platform where the interests and concerns of ORs are addressed.

In line with the subsidiarity principle, the Communication stresses that Member States are first and foremost responsible for action in their ORs. Nevertheless, it could be argued that the commitments for EU action in the Communication could have gone further. The envisaged targeting of EU financial support to protecting biodiversity and developing circular economy in the ORs could have been more specific (e.g. providing an indication of the scale of financial allocations). Furthermore, the role of biodiversity and well-functioning ecosystems in underpinning the sustainable future of ORs’ key economic sectors could have been explicitly operationalised. For example, the Communication could have referred to the uptake of nature-based solutions, such as improved water risk management through the restoration of coastal wetlands. The Communication could have also been more specific on measures that facilitate the transition to a circular economy in the ORs. Such examples could have included guidance on indicators, support for awareness raising, capacity building and skills development, and guidance on the definition of the term circular economy to provide a common direction for policy-makers.

While the new strategy seems well suited to help deliver sustainable development in the ORs, the extent of this contribution will depend on its uptake and the specific actions that follow. Targeting of EU investment towards low-carbon, nature-based, resource-efficient and socially inclusive initiatives can act as a key catalyst to ensure a sustainable future for the ORs. Furthermore, the ad-hoc platform could for instance be used to develop and coordinate actions, share knowledge and exchange experiences on the green and circular economy amongst ORs. If the Communication’s actions are successfully implemented, ORs will be able to function as frontrunners for the green and circular economy transition, providing lessons that are relevant for the whole EU and for the development of island states worldwide.