Press Releases Opening speech by President von der Leyen at the Sustainable Investment Summit

Opening speech by President von der Leyen at the Sustainable Investment Summit

Distinguished guests,
and leaders across the field of sustainability.

I am delighted to open this year’s Sustainable Investment Summit.

Since we met last year, global economic growth forecasts may have weakened. But our collective commitment to building a sustainable economy has not.

In fact, the business, security, and moral case for the green transition has only become stronger. The same fateful week when Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the leading authority on climate change, the IPCC, issued a stark warning to the global community. They demonstrated that the climate is changing faster than our capacity to adapt.

The message could not be clearer: We must speed up sustainable investments, and increase their scope. Now more than ever, despite Russia’s attempt to disrupt the international order, the world must remain united in our fight for a peaceful, fair and prosperous future.

I would like to focus on two points today, that you will cover in more depth in the panels.

First, on public investment, which is needed to mobilise private capital.

Second, on empowering workers with skills to drive the green transition.

Let’s start with public investment. Our immediate priority is tackling the energy crisis, which risks becoming an economic and social crisis. Already at last year’s summit, I spoke about the unsustainability of the energy system, which is still dominated by fossil fuels. Since Russia’s brutal attack on Ukraine, this has become even more obvious. Putin is using fossil fuels as a weapon against Europe. But Europe will not be blackmailed. We will not compromise on our values.

We are determined to end our dependence on Russian fossil fuels, once and for all, and fast. By diversifying supply, saving energy, and accelerating the roll-out of renewables. Two figures: Last year, 41% of Europe’s gas imports came from Russia. Now, this figure is down to 9% pipeline gas. We were able to compensate these losses through increased supply by our trusted partners – like the US and Norway. In parallel we have filled our gas storages to over 90%. This is significantly higher than it was last year. And we have managed to save 15% of the gas consumption. But we have to go and steer the medium and long-term transition. We have proposed REPowerEU, an investment support to cut our dependence on Russian fossil fuels by accelerating the deployment of renewables. Renewable energy is not only good for the climate, it is also good for our independence.

It is clean energy produced at home. Gas pipelines are being built fit-for-purpose for green hydrogen. Interconnectors are being completed to create a Europe-wide electricity grid, to support the mass deployment of wind and solar. So, we are investing in the infrastructure and technology needed for a full transition to a low-carbon economy.

REPowerEU will come as additional firepower and acceleration, on top of the recovery and resilience plans of EU Member States. To date, the Commission has given the green light to nearly 500 billion euros from NextGenerationEU, of which half support the green transition. This includes measures in sustainable mobility, energy efficiency, and investments in renewables and grids. For example, in France’s plan, 85.000 ecological bonuses have already been disbursed to support the uptake of clean vehicles. And this is just the start. Because much of our public investment is designed to help de-risk and mobilise private capital. Like in Italy’s plan, where NextGenerationEU funds are being used to boost their National Innovation Fund. This is to finance private investments that have a positive impact on research and innovation for a low-carbon economy.

The measure in Italy aims to support 250 small and medium-sized enterprises with 700 million euros in sustainable investment. This is the right way to go, because we need entrepreneurs and private investment to help get the job done. That is why we are here today. The green innovation is here. The public investment is here. And the path is clear. This is a truly exciting moment for all of us who believe in sustainable progress.

Which brings me to my second point: human capital. This is a core theme of today’s summit. And for very good reason. There are entrepreneurs with big projects and dreams, and companies with ambitious plans to decarbonise, who simply cannot find the professionals with the green or digital skills to work with them. In Europe right now, we have the strongest labour market in decades, but at the same time we have a shortage of the right skills. This is a trend that has picked up especially in the last two years, as we recovered from the pandemic lockdowns. The Munich-based IFO Institute has found a growing shortage of skilled workers in almost every EU Member State, across economic sectors – from manufacturing to services. For example in construction, which is a pivotal sector for the clean energy transition, nearly 35% of EU firms report impairments due to a shortage of skilled workers.

That is why I have proposed to make 2023 the European Year of Skills, to focus our attention and sustainable investment on this crucial issue. At European level, we have set targets on re- and up-skilling and made available large amounts of EU funding: nearly 1.5 billion euros in NextGenerationEU so far, and 4.2 billion euros from the European Social Fund.

But it is about more than funding. It is about bringing industry and training providers together, employer’s associations with trade unions. The goal is to better match skilling strategies with the economy’s needs in our labour market. This is an approach we are pioneering with the Pact for Skills. We have created 12 large-scale partnerships offering skilling opportunities to 6 million EU citizens of working age.

For example, nearly 1500 graduates and workers have already received training in the offshore renewable energy sector. This is great news. Because offshore wind, for example in the Baltic and North Sea, is a huge and clean power source. Both for Europe’s energy independence from Russia. And to meet our climate ambitions. Because it is people and their know-how who drive positive change.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

If we take a step back, we have identified where investment is needed. In clean energy. In green tech and skills. And the list goes on, for we haven’t even spoken about biodiversity. The potential of green innovation and growth is immense. But to unlock this potential, we need to shift the entire financial system – away from unsustainable practices, towards investments that are truly future-proof.

The EU has created the most advanced sustainable finance framework globally. The EU is working hard to walk the talk on sustainable investment. For example, we are on track to be the world’s largest issuer of green bonds, to finance Europe’s climate-related reforms and investments. So far, we have issued 28 billion euros in green bonds, continuously attracting significant oversubscription for our issuances. This is a boost not only to Europe’s transition, but to the green bond market itself, as investors will have access to a very liquid green curve over time.

Sustainability is much more than the right thing to do. It is also the safest and smartest investment we can make. Betting on a low-carbon economy, that gives back to nature more than it takes, and reinforces our security, is the most certain economic trend in the coming years and decades.

Thank you for your leadership.

Thank you for your pledges.

And I wish you an exciting Summit.

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