Thank you very much and good morning.
It’s always a pleasure to be back on the old sod, I have to say
- after nearly 20 years in Copenhagen
and 35 years since leaving County Down in 1981.
What I would like to do is,
I would like to talk about the future by looking at history.
And I’m going to do that in a way which is reflecting
how it is we understand the precautionary principle
– one of the four environmental principles of the European Union Treaty
– and its application in the context of environment, health and wellbeing issues.
Before doing that though, and I’m going to rove a little bit,
I just want to explain briefly the European Environment Agency.
We are based in Copenhagen, which is in Denmark, not in Holland
as my mother still says.
It’s established by an EEC regulation
which means that we are required to do some things.
Our job is really to produce information,
and to do that by building bridges between science and policy.
In doing that for 22 years now,
we have moved much more from what you might call a thematic focus
we still do a lot of it, towards a more systemic focus.
And I heard Stephanie talk about systemic risks and systemic solutions
and we are in that game as well.
We have this strong network called Eionet.
We also have a network of Directors of the EPAs across Europe,
of which Laura is a member, of course.
And our network comprises 33 member countries
and six co-operating countries in the west Balkans.
We also work with the Middle East and North Africa,
and the countries that were formerly in the Soviet Union
and are not in the European Union,
such as Ukraine and Georgia,
to build capacities around environmental information.
We have 200 people to do that.
So if you do the maths we have about five people per country
which given there’s 500 million people in Europe
it’s kind of interesting proportionality,
and a budget of about €45m.
So what do we do?
We are there really to support policy and in doing so
we see three timelines to support - 2020, 2030 and 2050.
And as this slide shows, we have a lot of policies in Europe on the environment,
300 plus directives, and other types of instruments.
And so we spend quite a lot of our time understanding
where we have come from on those,
I would say probably too much time understanding the past,
and also where we are going on that.
Then we have these emerging frameworks in Europe
which are more with a 2030 perspective.
And they are epitomised by the recent Paris agreement,
by the idea of establishing an energy union in Europe,
by the recently agreed sustainable development goals,
which were mentioned by previous speakers and so on.
And we have a long-term vision for the environment
in Europe and it goes like this.
And I’m not going to read it out, but I think it’s a rather interesting perspective
to which we aim towards trying to develop our knowledge
and inform and how it is we go from a past
of developing the environment in Europe for the last 40 years
to how it is we would like Europe to be
and we would like to be in the coming 40 years.
And this talks about circular economy,
it talks about maintaining biodiversity and ecosystems,
it talks about low-carbon growth.
But it does talk about us in terms of living
in a globally safe and sustainable society.
So when we come to our job,
which is essentially to try and take a lot of information
which has been gathered across all of these countries
over 40 years in a very organic policy development
and knowledge development, we want to try and put it into some context
and some sense so that people can understand it.
And we do this by following the 7th Environmental Action Programme.
And last year we produced our latest five-year report.
We call it the European Environment State and Outlook 2015.
And in it we looked at trying to put our information
into the context of the three priority objectives,
which are essentially to preserve natural capital,
to arrive at a resource efficient, low-carbon economy
and to safeguard health.
And there’s two overall patterns emerge
from what it is we call our piano table.
And this table shows you in three columns
and two rows. First of all in the columns
the key overall trends with respect to natural capital,
resource efficiency and safeguarding risks to health
and then with respect to the second,
the first row looking at the past and the second row looking into the future.
Where you see green it’s positive,
where you see yellow it’s mixed
and where you see red it in balance is negative.
And essentially what we are able to say is that,
we have been in Europe much better at being able to achieve
resource efficiency improvements than either sustaining the
resilience of ecosystems or the resilience of ourselves
in terms of our overall wellbeing.
And the question you may ask is, why is that?
And there’s many answers to it
but I will give two perspectives that would summarise it.
The first one is, achieving efficiency improvements
have been rather straightforward,
because we have technologies to be able to deal with the problem,
what we call the end of pipe solution.
And so that’s why you see this primarily green perspective in the middle.
The second issue is that, ecosystems and people are complex.
And I think this complexity and how it is we manage that complexity
through policy actions and through various other approaches it’s not easy.
And I would say that if you look back at the European Environmental Policy developments
we have evolved from a rather simple approach to a more complex approach.
But it is…it’s just simply difficult.
And there’s another dimension here,
which is the global perspective.
We are influenced in Europe now much greater by global developments
than we have been in the past.
And if you take it for the health and wellbeing dimension,
we have global systems of supply chains
which mean we have a very different food consumption
perspective than we had 20 years ago.
And it has several relations to our health and wellbeing.
So that’s a very simplified way of trying to boil down a lot of information.
In the report we talk about, how do we respond to these trends?
And the answer is, well incremental efficiency gains
are not going to be sufficient in the future
to be able to achieve what it is we want to achieve, sustainability.
What we need to be looking at is fundamental transitions
in key systems of production and consumption.
And they are namely food,
which is rather underplayed in the overall discussion,
energy we know a lot about,
mobility, we don’t talk transport we talk mobility,
access to services, access to goods, access to what we want.
The urban systems mentioned in previous presentations.
But then two systems which are not directly contributing to environmental pressures,
but which are arguably as important if not more improtant,
the finance system, how it directs us towards either a low-carbon economy
or a not low-carbon economy, and,
the fiscal system, how we use taxes and subsidies
to be able to arrive on a path towards sustainability.
And a lot of our subsidy systems are in the opposite direction of sustainability.
So we do that by talking about practices,
changing our practices in governance,
changing our practices in knowledge, and also encouraging innovations.
So that’s where we want to be.
But what does history tell us?
We have two reports, and I think,
I hope there was delivered copies of the second one,
because if it has been it’s the biggest report ever produced in the agency.
And because of things like online and stuff like that,
it will be always the biggest report produced by the agency.
So if you get a hold of it, in 40 years’ time you could be holding onto something
which is really famous or not.
There you go. 750 pages of something.
So what we have been doing in the agency
through a very inspired called David G who comes from England,
and who retired unfortunately in 2012.
And if you have a future conference around this sort of thing, invite him.
He is so knowledgeable and so inspiring.
I think Mike can probably confirm that.
He’s the author of these two reports
which involve bringing together a lot of people from around the world
to help us understand how it is innovations in the past
have contributed to developments,
and how the use of the precautionary principle has
either helped or not in regard to
managing impacts on ecosystems and people’s wellbeing.
And so in the Treaty of the European Union
we have four environmental principles which are there to
essentially guide the development of environmental policy.
The first one is the precautionary principle
and the others are about preventative action,
that polluter pays and the rectification of damage at source.
And I would say that with respect to the preventative,
the polluter pays and the rectification of environmental damage at source
we have a rather uncontroversial debate in society about it.
The precautionary principle is very different.
Although we have the precautionary principle in the Treaty
there isn’t really a kind of clear definition of it
and so in the work that we have been doing
we have come with a definition for ourselves.
And essentially what we are saying is that
we use the precautionary principle to justify policy action
in situations of high uncertainty, even ignorance and certainly complexity,
and where we may need to act to avoid or reduce
potentially serious or irreversible threats to health of ourselves
or the environment and ecosystems,
using an appropriate strength of evidence,
taking into account the likely pros and cons of action and inaction.
It’s a little long, but it’s rather rich in its description and what it means.
And essentially what we have done with these two reports
is to come and look at the precautionary principle
and its potential two roles,
as a trigger for debates on future innovation pathways
in a resource-constrained world,
where by 2050 we expect to have 10 billion people on the planet
and probably a likely unprecedented climate change by then,
and as a legal and moral justification for more timely actions
on early warnings from science about potential hazards
to ourselves and to ecosystems.
So what do the two reports do?
Well first of all, one was published in 2001,
the second one was published in 2013.
You may think that’s quite a long time between two reports,
but actually the nature of the information in the reports is rather timeless.
So we don’t have to concern ourselves so much
about annuality or being on time so to speak.
In this case we can say that the information
that we have in there we could come and read it in 15 years’ time
and still draw a lot of inspiration from it.
And what those reports do across the two volumes
is to look at 34 case studies and ask the question
towards these different issues around environmental chemicals,
ecosystems, some of the emerging technologies, pharmaceuticals,
radiations, a wide range of case studies.
We ask experts in the field to tell the story of the different case studies,
what happened in case X when it came to early warnings
from science about particular problems?
What happened in terms of the response
either from business or from public policy
to those early warnings from science?
And what was the result of the lag between the early warning
from science and the action taken and the results seen?
And so the reports go into this
and it would be great to have three days to explain what the reports say.
But I would like to boil it down to five insights
that are relevant to this discussion around health and wellbeing.
The first one is that we have a lot of evidence in these reports,
and the reports cover the period 1750 to the early 2000s,
so it’s quite a long history we are looking at,
and quite a lot of evidence that,
if the precautionary principle had been applied
and by inference it had not been applied,
then on the basis of early warnings from science
we could have saved a lot of lives and ecosystems
as well as ensured that the costs of inaction to society
were substantially lower and business would also have been steered
towards what you might call less harmful innovations.
Now that’s a big overall conclusion across a lot of case studies.
One of the reasons for that is that we do have this rather asymmetric reality
when it comes to cost:benefit analysis.
And essentially it is that we are much better at understanding
the costs and much less so at understanding the benefits.
That’s a lot of words there to describe that point.
But I think paying attention to how it is this methodology
is used and applied in public policy and it’s used and applied a lot,
and how it could be adapted to reflect a better balance
between economic, social and environmental interests
is something that we have been looking at with other people.
With some difficulty, we haven’t arrived at an alternative to CBA,
but it is an area well worth proper exploration,
perhaps in the research field more than anywhere else.
Insight number one.
Insight number two, the nature of risk and harm
expands over time when we look at these case studies.
So when you come to look at the examples here
then you will see that in asbestos which was first identified as a potential problem in 1898
by a factory inspector in the UK,
who saw evidence and reported her concerns about that evidence,
you then arrived at an understanding in 1929
that asbestosis was the effect,
but then by 1954 we had lung cancer understood,
then we had mesothelioma,
and then most recently around throat and other cancers.
Now there are a lot of examples here, DES at the bottom,
we have vaginal cancer understood in 1970s.
In 1980s we see much wider reproductive problems
and then we see a transfer from one part of the body
to another part of the body when it comes to cancer,
in this case breast cancer.
And this is interesting for us because,
in understanding the relationship between warnings from science
and policy action the understanding is to be more preventive,
as Stephanie was saying,
be more anticipatory towards effects
which we don’t know about but where we can have some understanding
perhaps in terms of our own physiology,
that there’s at least in public policy terms a risk
on the downside that we should be anticipating towards.
So this is an interesting insight, I think,
that comes out across many case studies.
Insight number three, to rethink environment and health research.
A piece of work that was done by a professor in Denmark, Philippe Grangeon,
was to get one of his students to look at all of the
environment and health journal articles from the 20th century
into the first decade of this century
and to do it by looking at what’s called CAS numbers,
which means you can get ready access to the descriptions of the articles.
And what they found was that there was a huge bias towards
investing in research in what we already know
as opposed to investing in research about things that we know something about
and we know we should know more about,
but we don’t invest in proportionately.
And one of the most interesting observations I think is that,
even in this first decade of this century
we were still seeing half of all of these articles
in these journals talking about things that we know a lot about,
and they are still important, mercury, lead, other heavy metals.
An interesting insight, probably questioning the scientific paradigm
around replication and verification,
perhaps reflecting policy-makers’ desire for more certainty from science.
We have observed it I think, I have observed it where I work in the last 20 years.
And I think it’s been happening elsewhere.
And we also know that if you are a Professor,
and I have to say this very carefully,
you have a job for a long time.
And it means that you can have quite a few cycles of studentships coming through,
where they are taught largely the same thing as the previous studentship,
and therefore there may be a need for somewhat more innovation.
And I make a huge exception to Michael Depledge,
not because he’s sitting at the table
but because we know each other for a long time
and he is very much an exception to that point.
And then we argue for this more this more cross-disciplinary research,
which we are seeing some examples of, systemic science,
community developing in Europe.
But it’s still a niche innovation compared with the prevailing research paradigm.
Insight number four, we got another colleague to do research
into the money that had been spent on EU research programmes,
framework programme, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, now Horizon 2020,
but not including that in this,
and trying to understand in the period 1994-2013
what was the balance of research between
the economic interests and the societal interests if I could put it like that.
And the answer is quite striking
when you see that the investment in innovations
which we need, and research is part of that game,
are 99% of the overall investment.
And the investment in understanding the risk to our health
and to the health of ecosystems is less than 1%.
In our view a balance of 90:10 85:15 would be more in line
with how it is we would see a public policy
like research balancing those interests.
Insight number five is the role of price in managing risks.
And so what we observe across a lot of the case studies is that,
the external costs of harm are often paid by taxpayers
and not by the source of the harm.
And this often happens because the time lag
between identifying that there is a product which is harmful,
the impacts that that product has on a wide population
through the consumption use of that product
and the action that’s taken to do something about it,
which may result in compensation costs and other types of actions,
it’s often decades, and several decades in terms of the time lag.
And the company is often gone.
So the ability to obtain from the source of the harm,
compensation for the public health costs
and other costs, is not there.
And so it falls to the taxpayer.
We could though think that through the fiscal system
that we are much more explicit on what it is we want to do,
when it comes to using taxation
for the purposes of dealing with harmful products.
And to do this in a way which is perhaps going back to the previous insight
on harm expands over time to think
that the tax expands over time
to recognise that there’s a relationship
between how it is we want the source of innovation
to pay for any kind of cost over time.
And then you come to the issue of,
well what do we do with the new technologies
– the nano, the GMOs, the mobile phones
– where we have observed already that there’s some evidence
to do with the relationship between over-use of that phone
towards this part of your head and brain cancer?
And the idea of thinking that maybe we should be considering
putting down upfront liability bonds,
not of a large proportion towards the company,
in terms of its revenues and its profits,
but to build a kind of safety net
for any kind of possible harm that results decades down the line.
In the event that it doesn’t happen
we can give the money back to the company.
In the event that the company doesn’t exist anymore
we can use it for some common purpose, common good.
So they are some insights from our report,
and the link to the long-term transition agenda
that we are discussing is that,
we have to think a little bit about innovation.
We often have this feeling that
innovations are a good thing, a win:win situation.
If you take the circular economy discussion in Europe
there’s a kind of sense in the policy-making community
that the circular economy can do no wrong.
But we have observed already that if you recycle cardboard and you,
through the technologies that you use
and through the component elements
that are in that cardboard,
then you arrive at a thing called a pizza box,
which a lot of us can recognise,
and you put your pizza in it,
and you realise that actually there’s contamination
between that box and that pizza, recycled cardboard.
So what’s happened in Denmark is that very recently
they banned recycled cardboard for pizza boxes
because of the food contact issue.
And they have insisted upon non-toxic cardboard,
which is a very strange expression, if you think about it.
Why should we have to say non-toxic cardboard?
It should be non-toxic.
But the recycling technologies are inadvertently
arriving at toxic outcomes in the recycled material.
And this is important to understand,
because circular economy is not always a win:win situation.
We have to think about where some of the potential problems may come.
So looking ahead, and this is interesting,
because three years ago,
nearly three years ago we had a workshop.
We have a scientific committee in the agency
full of like august, often men,
although we have had some women over time,
and it’s been really good that the Chair of the scientific committee,
who has just finished her 8-year term, was a woman.
Of course, she was, I said she.
But we have a lot of men in the scientific committee.
Anyway, we said in early 2014,
let’s have a discussion about environment, health and wellbeing
and understand from a science perspective what it is we want to look at.
And it’s one of these wonderful things, we invite a lot of people together
and you don’t really understand who everybody is
or what they are about or what their motivation is.
But somebody came from DG research.
And they heard somebody talk about human bio-monitoring
which is not a new issue, because it’s been around for a while,
but he went, ah, I think we should invest in this.
Now that’s 2014, February I think,
so we are nearly three years since then.
And the answer is, human bio-monitoring for the EU
which is an exercise to try and look at establishing a human bio-monitoring network
that would be fully established, because currently we have experiments,
we don’t have the established approach.
An investment of €70m over five years from the beginning of next year
to the end of 2021, involving many more countries, if I’m honest,
than we would wish, because it makes for a project management challenge, I should say.
But it includes 22 EU member states, including Ireland.
And I asked Catherine, my colleague,
who is running it in the agency, who is the Irish player?
And it’s the Health Service Executive
and it’s Maurice Mulcahy
who is sitting in the second row here involved in the consortium.
So it’s great to learn that sort of stuff
just on your way from Copenhagen to Dublin.
Israel is in the consortium as well.
I ask the question, why? I don’t know.
But it’s really interesting, if we could in the five years
establish a rather targeted,
because I think it will have to be targeted,
and a highly relevant kind of approach to this networking,
we could see a lot of investments into this.
And imagine what it may mean for changing the paradigm of monitoring,
because our monitoring is about monitoring the environment and the media.
If we change to monitoring ourselves
we may actually see a rather fundamental difference
in monitoring in the coming 10-20 years. HBM for EU.
Horizon 2020 can do good things.
And Laura is on the advisory group that is trying,
amongst others, on this. My last slide.
If you want to come and look at a transition in Europe
towards a low-carbon resource efficient economy
within which we respect natural capital
and the ecosystem services that natural capital delivers
for our health and wellbeing,
as well as for our economy,
then we want to be able to understand this relationship to us,
both in terms of our health,
but also this much wider aspect called wellbeing.
And we tend to use the term without maybe thinking.
I certainly don’t have all the elements in my mind.
But in the agency we have a history of producing environment and health reports.
We did it in 2000, 2005, 2013, and now we would like, in 2018
to produce an environment, health and wellbeing report.
And the centre story of it is the human condition.
But we want to look at it from angles that are a little bit different,
and certainly from what we have done in the past,
and not all environmental.
So this issue of demographic trends, healthy life years,
chronic burden of disease, as Stephanie mentioned,
the idea of urbanisation and the benefits and costs
that come from our approaches to that.
We would like to understand environmental pressures regionally,
because we feel that there may be a distributional element here
which is worthy of a bit more consideration,
in terms of inequalities across the European region.
And to link that to socio-economic status
and try and understand the relationship between the socio-economic status
and the environmental exposure.
And then to try and answer the key question
– how do these trends combined influence essentially our exposure
vulnerability and resilience across Europe? 500 million people.
Now that’s a hugely ambitious thing to do.
And what we are going to try and do by 2018
is to put down markers about what such an assessment could look like,
and what such an assessment could tell us
about a possible 8th Environmental Action Programme.
Because the 7th Environmental Action Programme comes to an end in 2020,
and in it at the end of that programme it says,
we should establish an 8th Environmental Action Programme from 1st January 2021.
That was in 2014.
The European Union is a very different place today from two or three years ago.
So we are not sure.
But if there is one coming we would like to put environment health and wellbeing
at the centre of such a programme.
And therefore I’m going to finish by asking,
there’s something wonderful about Ireland….
sorry there are many things wonderful about Ireland,
but there’s something particularly wonderful about Ireland,
and it’s the way this poodle dog,
this is my description of it, sits on its backside,
which is my description of the map of Ireland,
and how you have this really rich spatial system of understanding
what’s going on, at levels which we can’t even get close to.
We will never get close to on this European level
being able to understand some of these distributional issues.
So I wanted to make a plea,
and I’m doing it without having spoken to Laura or Stephanie
or whatever but I’m going to make the plea anyway.
If you would be interested in being a case study in the middle of that report
which tried to get a bit more fundamentally at the local level,
you know, the real impact for people.
Because as I say, for us it will be difficult.
And I have looked at the EPA network.
I haven’t looked at HSE.
But I look at these maps and I go,
if we had some ability and expertise to be able to put together,
and I think Mike may say something about this in his presentation,
it would be really fantastic to put a case study down.
And say that this is what it’s about.
This is what we are really trying to tackle here.
It’s complex. It’s multi-dimensional.
It’s multiple end points.
But it’s really worth considering how can policy respond to it.
It would be fantastic if we were able to do it.
And I will stop there. Thank you.
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Jock Martin, European Environment Agency
European Environment & Health: Late Lessons from Early Warning