8th June 2021 - the European Chemical Regions Network (ECRN)’s conference "Circular Chemical Industries for Zero Pollution in EU Regions", partner event of the European Green Week 2021, looked at the role of regions and local authorities in the implementation of the EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability. Following the presentation of the recently published opinion of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR): "Safe and sustainable chemicals for a toxic-free environment in Europe's cities and regions", regional ministries, EU officials and industry representatives discussed challenges and opportunities for the creation of circular and pollution-free local chemical industrial ecosystems.
“The CoR’s opinion is a key document presenting benefits and threats to be faced by local and reginal authorities, citizens and the industry in the implementation of the EU chemical strategy for sustainability. The implementation phase will be a big challenge for the chemical sector but also for EU regions. That is way in the elaboration of the opinion great attention was given to the voices of the chemical regions.” Adam Struzik, President of Mazovia Region & Rapporteur of the of the European Committee of the Regions’ opinion on the EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability
Tomasz Zieliński, PhD, President of the Polish Chamber of Chemical Industry, provided an overview of the CoR’s opinion and discussed its key recommendations with a special focus on the role of regions in implementing the EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability to ensure zero pollution in chemicals production and consumption.
The EU Chemical Strategy is essential to increase the competitiveness of the European chemical sector, harnessing the key role of chemicals to ensure Europe’s climate neutrality by 2050 and delivering the European Green Deal. As chemicals dominate almost the entire product manufacturing market, they play a fundamental role in everyday life and their safety and sustainability are fundamental to human health, environmental protection and economic recovery. The Strategy also draws particular attention to the role of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and the need to protect the innovation and competitiveness of European businesses. Local authorities with their connections to local actors and knowledge of territorial strengths can effectively contribute to achieving Europe’s zero-pollution ambition. Access to funds will also be fundamental in the transition towards circular climate-neutral and competitive chemical industries. The CoR’s opinion provides some instruments and tools for local policymakers to support this transition as well as analysis of the main challenges and opportunities.
How to create positive change in the chemicals sector, stimulate the development of circular chemical industries and create a toxic-free environment for Europe?
Lia Voermans, Director of Chemelot Circular Hub, underlined the importance of assisting SMEs during the chemical industry’s ecological transformation. She points out that the implementation of the chemical strategy will be closely linked to achieving the circular economy’s objectives. We need to value waste and consider it as a new feedstock suitable for the creation of sustainable and resilient value chains. Many barriers still apply when it comes to waste definition and waste management, especially for interregional initiatives on circular economy. Ensuring the transition will require flexible and innovative solutions as well as new business models to introduce and promote new technologies. To fully achieve this systemic change across the entire chemical value chain, private-public partnerships will be the key. The governance of the ecological transformation needs to engage the private sector, stimulate knowledge sharing between research and industry and give access to funds. In particular, the linkage between SMEs and larger companies needs to be strengthened to accelerate the innovation and competitiveness of European industries. Most importantly, Regions need to have a vision to accompany this transformation. The Chemelot Circular Hub has the ambition to become the first European chemical circular industrial ecosystem. To set the right path, Limburg region together with local stakeholders elaborated a roadmap and a new form of local governance that enables all actors to work together.
Lieven Top, Senior Climate & Industry Advisor to the Flemish Ministry of Economy, Science & Innovation, really appreciated the importance the Strategy gives to technology sovereignty and the resilience of European chemical value chains. The European industry competitiveness needs to be protected from products reaching the EU markets from beyond the EU borders that may not respect the same environmental and safety standards, as well as we need to avoid relocation of production in third countries. Ensuring a level playing field for the transformation of the European industry towards safe and sustainable chemicals needs clear rules, simplification and transparency to keep added value and production in Europe's regions and protect the European market and ecosystem from toxic substances.
Maria Grazia Pedrana, Responsible for European policies and international networks, Lombardy Region, underlined the fundamental role of local authorities in ensuring a toxic-free environment at the regional level. A coherent, predictable and simplified legal framework will contribute to creating a uniform approach to the assessment and management of chemicals. Grants and technical assistance will enable local and regional authorities to support investments related to the development, commercialisation, implementation and uptake of safe and sustainable substances, materials and products. Moreover, disruptive technological change and the green transition are changing the face of industry on a global scale. Upskilling and reskilling will also be also crucial to create new technology-based skills and knowledge to boost the competitiveness of the European industry.
Kristin Schreiber, Director of Ecosystems, Chemicals, Food, Health & Retail, DG Grow, highlights the transversal and pervasive nature of the chemical sector. As chemicals are used across all kind of industries and products, its transformation needs to be a horizontal and integrated approach that reinforces interregional and interinstitutional collaborations. It is necessary to upgrade and strengthen the REACH and CLP regulations as well as to simplify procedures to ensure transparency and effective implementation. Safety and sustainability by design will be crucial to ensure the circularity of the whole chemical value chains. Taking the product's life cycle into account already at the design stage will accelerate the market uptake of new and alternative chemical products and technologies that deliver greater consumer confidence in their safety, environmental and societal benefits and advance the transition towards a circular economy and climate-neutral society.
Raffaele Cattaneo, Regional Minister for Environment of Lombardy Region, stressed the importance of accelerating innovation to support the chemical industry ecological transition. This transition shouldn’t be seen as a risk but as an opportunity. As an example, thanks to the programme "Responsible Care”, promoting the sustainable development of the chemical industry, Lombardy's industries realised how sustainability is not only good for the environment but also for the business. Companies participating in the programme have increased their economic turnover while reducing their environmental footprint. Stimulating innovative business models as well as enhancing transparency, accountability and liability of companies will be key for the future of the European chemical industry.
How to manage the perception of risk when it comes to communicating toxic-free chemicals?
Communications in areas scientifically complex are challenging. When people don’t have all information to fully understand the issue, they usually turn to whom they trust. When it comes to communicating with the citizen, regions are well placed because they can provide concrete examples. In the EU we already start from a very high-level regulation and standards in terms of the safety of chemicals. Companies will still need to innovate but we have to acknowledge the results that Europe has achieved through common efforts. Now it’s time to upgrade what we already have created.
The event was closed by Fabrizio Sala, Regional Minister for Education, University, Research, Innovation and Simplification of Lombardy Region, and ECRN President. Mr Sala thanked all speakers and participants who joined the conference and reaffirmed the importance of the role of regions in implementing the EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability to ensure zero pollution in chemicals production and consumption. To conclude the event, the recently realised ECRN's introductory video was shown, underlining the importance of interregional cooperation of European regions in the chemical sector.