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EU Commissioner, Virginijus Sinkevičius, breaks down the EU's fight against pollution

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EU Commissioner, Virginijus Sinkevičius, breaks down the EU's fight against pollution
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The EU and the rest of the world are being forced to move much faster in the fight against climate change and pollution. To get some in-depth insight into how the European Union is going to do this, Euronews' Shona Murray sat down with the EU Commissioner for the Environment, Ocean and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius.

To watch the full interview with Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius, click on the media player above.

You have some very ambitious targets when it comes to ending soil pollution, sea pollution, air pollution. How exactly are you going to implement any of these?

Virginijus Sinkevičius, EU Commissioner for the Environment, Ocean and Fisheries:

"First of all, probably the most effective way to address pollution is, of course, to make it that it doesn't happen because then the situation gets very complicated. And this is where we are. We have premature deaths caused by pollution. We have diseases linked to pollution. We have ecosystem destruction linked with pollution. And it happens not somewhere else. It happens here in the EU. So we have to act quickly. I'm happy that the commission just recently adopted Zero Pollution Action Plan. By zero pollution we mean, first of all, bringing down pollution levels so that they do not harm our citizens' health, that they do no harm to ecosystems. The goal is, of course, ambitious. It will take time. We plan to do it by 2050. But of course, there is lots of work to be done already by 2030. And for example, when we speak about marine pollution, microplastics, our plan is to decrease the pollution from microplastics by 30 percent, looking into different types of measures. I think this pandemic is a good wake-up call to everyone and really a moment to think that we can do business differently".

You mentioned that the pandemic is an important opportunity because we know that there has been a reduction in carbon emissions because of industrial output and less cars on the road etc. How do we know that when this is over and we have vaccinated everyone that this is not just going to go straight back to normal?

Virginijus Sinkevičius, EU Commissioner for the Environment, Ocean and Fisheries:

"You're absolutely right. If we do nothing, the numbers will jump back up and maybe even increase because we see that the tendency is actually increasing. So here is, as I said, you know, our horizontal zero pollution action plan, which touches upon different areas.

I would say three major areas which we are addressing are, of course, energy, transport and we're looking at, of course, on our proposed chemicals. So these are the sectors that we are especially focusing on and for example, when we speak about transport, I think there is a variety of tools.

First of all, of course, working very closely with municipalities and their governments and, of course, their investments into the transportation system, making it more attractive to citizens, investing into micro-mobility solutions. The Commission, of course, is ready to help. But most importantly, of course, the unique opportunity comes with the public funding and especially speaking about our RRF - Recovery and Resilience Facility - where each member state will receive a solid amount of cash to be invested basically into recovery and resilience building".

Before we move on to the recovery fund, because that's really important, just give us an example of chemicals. Give us some examples of how industry will have to change or alter to ensure that there's less pollution. Will there be more legislation around harmful chemicals, pesticides, and will there be legislation around how cars are manufactured and so on?

Virginijus Sinkevičius, EU Commissioner for the Environment, Ocean and Fisheries:

"So, first of all, if we speak about chemicals concretely, we're speaking, of course, about avoiding harmful chemicals, replacing them. Unless it's proved that in some products, they cannot be replaced. Even so, then we, of course, encourage investment into research and development to try to find a replacement.

But our goal, of course, is to replace or completely exclude harmful chemicals from our market, from the products. We still have, I would say, very unequal legislation where in some products it's very clearly banned already for a while, and in others they are not. Those products are easily accessible to children, to women, to elderly people. So there are, of course, groups that are more vulnerable, which we, of course, need to protect as a priority. So there will be a major, of course, look at our chemical legislation. But I think we're keeping a very close contact with the stakeholders. They also understand that change is inevitable, but also it brings a first movers advantage and an opportunity, first of all, to be the most advanced with research and development".

There was a concern around Brexit and also the fact that the EU and the UK are competing for trade deals now. There was a concern that there will be a race to the bottom when it comes to standards, that the UK would reduce its standards in order to get more business in. Will the EU be a leader when it comes to ensuring that standards are actually maintained despite the fact that it may mean less trade?

Virginijus Sinkevičius, EU Commissioner for the Environment, Ocean and Fisheries:

"I would say that there is clear evidence that we maintain our leadership and even strengthen it. We just discussed chemicals. There is plenty of other sectors which we are looking at as well. Soon after, after the summer break, September, we're going to introduce one of the major initiatives of ours on deforestation, for example, where we want to look fully at the supply chains, that there wouldn't be any products associated with deforestation. So I think this is a major breakthrough, again, raising the bar high of our standards".

You mentioned the recovery fund, obviously a huge amount of money, unprecedented. We know that the green deal obviously goes hand-in-hand with how this money is spent. But how can we ensure that member states actually use the money to fundamentally change their position when it comes to sustainable farming or sustainable production and industry, and they're not just essentially greenwashing? Something that the EU gets accused of quite frequently from environmental NGOs.

Virginijus Sinkevičius, EU Commissioner for the Environment, Ocean and Fisheries:

"Of course, first of all, environmental NGOs and more broadly NGOs are closely watching the recovery and resilience plans, which member states are still submitting to. But the Commission also, of course, works very closely with member states. Our goal is, of course, to make sure that, first of all, our 37 percent goal for climate objective is upheld.

We have six very concrete measures, which we, of course, will be looking at in the plan. Secondly, member states also agreed on the 'do no significant harm principle', which is going to be applied and looked at in all of the projects which are proposed under the plans, making sure that, of course, we're not taking a step forward and then two steps back, ensuring that those plans are coherent with our goals, with our digital and green transition".