Why do we need a new EAP?
Global trends and challenges such as population dynamics and rising consumption in other parts of the world are making some environmental issues more pressing than ever - from resource and land use, to climate change. This makes it ever more important to address environmental problems at EU and at global level. The European Environment Agency's 2010 report on the State of Europe's Environment (SOER 2010) also shows that despite progress in some areas, the EU is not on track to meet many environment-related targets and objectives. We need to make the environment more resilient to present and future risks and changes, such as those linked to climate change and resource scarcity. The proposed action programme aims to ensure the EU addresses these risks and also takes the opportunities that they can present.
Better implementation of existing laws and strategies across our Member States was clearly identified as one important area of work best undertaken within a comprehensive framework of a new EU Environment Action Programme. Another was to address negative environmental impacts in various sectors and activities– such as construction, product design, food production and energy and transport – and with horizontal polices, such as taxation and removal of environmentally harmful subsides. Finally, it is becoming very clear that investments in environment and natural capital are investments in our future growth. There is a strong case that a framework in which the EU and its Member States share the responsibility for delivering results needs to be adopted at the EU level, as part of an effective, coherent approach. This will also ensure that environment policy makes a strong contribution to the EU's Europe 2020 agenda for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.
What are the main environmental problems of today?
Biodiversity loss and the degradation of ecosystems and the services they provide: Natural capital plays an essential role in ensuring that our environment is resilient in the face of pressure, for instance from climate change, and that our economy remains competitive. Nearly 18 % of the EU's territory and 4 % of its seas are now protected as part of the Natura 2000 network, yet Europe's natural capital continues to be degraded and depleted. The EU failed to reach its target of halting biodiversity loss by 2010. Soil degradation is accelerating and land use change continues to be a major driver of ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss in the EU.
Climate change: Over the past decade, the EU has reduced its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and is on track to meet its Kyoto Protocol commitments. Significant progress has been made towards meeting targets on energy efficiency and on promoting energy use from renewable sources. However, global and European cuts in GHG emissions are far from sufficient to keep average world temperature increases below 2°C. The impacts of climate change are already being felt across Europe and have implications for human health and wellbeing, as well as for the health of species and ecosystems and the functioning of ecosystem services. Although some regions of Europe are more seriously affected than others, all will face consequences of some kind and the effects will be unevenly distributed, with young and old, poor and ill being at greatest risk.
Waste: There has also been some progress in the EU to tackle challenges related to waste and unsustainable use of natural resources. Member States have increased waste management and recycling efforts and some are global leaders in waste recycling technology. However, these achievements are not equally spread amongst sectors and countries, and several waste streams continue to grow. On average only 40% of solid waste in the EU is re-used or recycled, with the rest going to landfill or incineration.
Natural resource management: Although the EU has succeeded in bringing about a relative decoupling of resource use, emissions and waste generation from economic growth in some areas, absolute decoupling remains a challenge and consumption patterns are largely unsustainable.
Water: Quantity and quality – which are inextricably linked – are an increasing cause for concern. Water quality has improved, but progress has been mixed and challenges remain. Water stress is becoming a widespread problem, and supplies need to be guaranteed for both human needs and for ecosystems to continue to deliver their services.
Air quality: Air pollution has declined in the EU, but not enough to achieve good air quality in all urban areas. Exposure to particulate matter and ozone (O3) remain of concern, linked to a loss of life expectancy, acute and chronic respiratory and cardiovascular effects, impaired lung development in children, and reduced birth weight. Many citizens live in areas where air quality breaches European limit values. Air pollution continues to cause more than 350,000 premature deaths in Europe each year and the estimated annual costs in terms of health expenditure or days of work lost through illness run to billions of Euros.
Chemicals: Our knowledge about chemicals is increasing as a result of the reform of EU chemical legislation. But EU citizens are still exposed to multiple pollutants and chemicals, which can lead to long-term damage to human health. Of particular concern are persistent and bio-accumulative substances, endocrine-disrupting chemicals and heavy metals. Significant knowledge gaps remain in relation to nanomaterials and combination effects of chemicals.
What is new in this programme? Is the Commission proposing new legislation?
The new programme aims to create a shared understanding of the state of Europe's environment, the challenges we face and the opportunities we have. We want to secure the commitment of Member States and the European Parliament to a limited number of priority objectives and what it takes to achieve them. It provides an overarching framework for action on objectives that have to be decided collectively by all EU Member States and Institutions. This is a necessary condition for fleshing out detailed concrete responses subsequently.
Past programmes tended to focus on specific environmental issues in isolation. The new approach is to consider how these issues are inter-related and how improvements in one area can deliver multiple benefits not only for the environment but also for the economy and society.
The proposal recognises that most of the elements needed to achieve the priority objectives identified are already in place, but that additional efforts are needed to improve implementation, the evidence base for policy, the investment framework and integration into other policies and sectors. Where policy gaps are identified, the proposal suggests what is required to fill them, without going into prescription of detailed instruments. Some initiatives are already under preparation within the Commission, for example to unlock the potential for green products and ensure a more comprehensive approach to climate change adaptation in Europe. Others are clearly best taken by the Member States themselves.
How can you justify this concern for the environment in the present climate of austerity?
Protecting natural resources means saving money – implementing EU environment law is cost-effective. Studies show that when factors such as health costs are taken into account, non-implementation actually costs more than implementation. Nature protection too can pay major dividends. Benefits related to the implementation of the Natura 2000 network in France, for example, have been calculated to exceed the costs by a factor of seven (costs were calculated at €142 per hectare and year). Green infrastructure is an even better example. A programme to restore several wetlands in the Danube river basin will cost €183 million but will retain vital adaptive ecosystem functions and will likely lead to earnings of €85.6 million per year.
Just by removing tax-related fossil fuel subsidies 21 Member States expenditure could be decreased by over €25bn. Other benefits include reduction of GHG emissions and the pollution associated with fossil fuel use, leading to cleaner air and water. Phasing out favourable treatment of company cars in 16 EU Member States could bring another €24bn. Moreover, such a move would unlock funds for financing clean technologies and increase eco-innovation.
Full compliance with EU waste policy in the coming years could create an additional 400.000 jobs and increase the annual turnover of the waste sector by €42 billion. Eliminating landfilling and ensuring that incineration is limited to waste that cannot be recycled could increase the benefits to around 520.000 jobs and €55 billion.
Phasing out dangerous chemicals, for instance, has significant environmental and health benefits. Prudent assumptions from 2006 are that the total health benefits, including avoidance of sickness due to better knowledge about chemicals, would be in the order of magnitude of €50 billion over the next 30 years. The total cost to industry for testing, assessing and the phasing out of substances is estimated to be €4-5 billion in total.
Air policy is another example: many EU citizens live in areas where the air quality breaches European limit values. The estimated annual costs in terms of health expenditure or days of work lost through illness run to billions of Euros.
Why an EAP to 2020, and not for ten years as in the past?
The timeframe of the programme is aligned to the multi-annual financial framework 2014-2020 and other key strategies, including the Europe 2020 Strategy, to ensure its timely implementation. At the same time, the 2050 vision serves as a reference point for longer-term action, beyond 2020. The final evaluation of the 6th EAP concluded that in some cases its ten-year timeframe proved too long for policy areas in which scientific evidence was developing quickly (e.g. climate change or biodiversity), while in others (e.g. waste or chemicals) it proved to be too short to be able to assess improvements on the ground as a result of measures included in the Programme, due to the long timeframe for their adoption and implementation.
Why isn't the proposal for a Decision accompanied by a Communication?
As with the 6th EAP, the Commission's proposal for the new EAP is in the form of a Decision to be adopted by the Council and the European Parliament. However, while the 6th EAP Decision proposal was accompanied by a Communication from the Commission, which set out the context and justification for the proposed priority areas and actions, this time everything is set out in a self-contained Decision text. The proposal is accompanied by a full Impact Assessment. Over the coming months the European Parliament and the Council will agree the priority objectives that will guide policy development up to 2020, and the reasons for that choice.
How did the Commission select the 9 priority objectives?
The Commission drew on the vast amount of work in this area, including what it has done itself in recent years, the European Environment Agency's report 'The European Environment – State and Outlook 2010' and OECD's outlooks. The Commission also considered input from a wide range of stakeholders, including responses to a public consultation on the future programme, and the official views of the other EU Institutions.
This led first to the identification of three themes – natural capital, green economy and health – that form three thematic priority objectives. Conserving and restoring our natural capital is an important part of transforming Europe into a competitive and sustainable economy, and is fundamental to the overall resilience of our society. Measures to improve resource efficiency and reduce greenhouse gases can deliver growth and jobs whilst tackling environmental problems and reducing the risks associated with excessive use of natural resources. And tackling environment-related health problems and working with nature to improve the living conditions of EU citizens and safeguard them from changes brought about by climate change and other pressures will benefit health and wellbeing and secure long-term prosperity.
We also identified what needs to be done and by whom in order to deliver results required under those three areas, which is the four priority objectives that form an 'enabling framework'. They focus on full implementation of existing policies and legislation, on ensuring that policy decisions are taken on the basis of sound evidence, on adequate private and public investments in support of environment and climate change policy, and on the effective integration of environmental concerns into other policies.
Finally, two further priority objectives were clear: first setting out the importance of acting on the urban dimension – sustainable cities - and second the global dimensions of EU environment policy. The latter also fully reflects the EU's commitments arising from the outcome of the 2012 Rio+20.
How will the programme improve environmental integration?
If adopted, the programme will require that policy initiatives at EU and Member State level include environmental and climate-related conditionalities and incentives where relevant, and that that ex-ante assessments of the environmental, social and economic impacts of these initiatives are carried out on a systematic basis.
Why are there no new quantified targets for 2020?
Targets are an important tool in setting the agenda for change. They focus efforts and provide the private sector with clarity on the long-term direction of policy-making. In many environment policy areas specific targets for the period up to 2020 already exist and are part of current legislation. Where this is the case, they are recalled in the new EAP and the emphasis is on fully implementing agreed policies and legislation to achieve them.
However, there are some areas where new targets may be helpful and others where new scientific evidence suggests that existing targets may be out of date. These targets will need to be developed on the basis of robust methodologies and statistical data and supported by impact assessments. In these cases, the new EAP aims to secure agreement on the need for new or updated targets, which would then be developed over the course of the programme.
How does the new EAP relate to other strategic documents such as the resource efficiency roadmap, the low-carbon economy roadmap, the biodiversity strategy 2020?
The new EAP provides an overarching framework for recent environment policy initiatives. It draws on inter-linkages between them to deliver multiple benefits and strengthen the contribution of environment and climate change policy to the achievement of the smart, sustainable and inclusive growth agenda of the EU 2020 Strategy. It does not replace these initiatives or delay their implementation.
How will the programme help reduce the global impact of European consumption?
Prioritising action to improve sustainable consumption and production in the EU will help alleviate pressure on the environment in the rest of the world. In particular, it is proposing that targets be set for reducing the overall environmental impact of consumption, especially in the food, housing and mobility sectors, which are responsible for around 80% of these impacts. The Commission will also consider how to further improve the environmental performance and resource efficiency of products as part of its review of existing product legislation.
What do you plan to do in the field of climate change mitigation?
The Commission has highlighted the need to strengthen the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) and has taken two important steps to address the growing supply-demand imbalance of emission allowances in the market. As an immediate first step to address the rapid build-up of the surplus of emission allowances, the Commission made a formal proposal to revise the auction time profile and postpone ('back-load') the auctioning of 900 million allowances in the third phase of the EU ETS starting in 2013. As a second step, the Report on the state of the European carbon market1 sets out a range of possible structural measures that can be taken to tackle the surplus. Strengthening the EU ETS is necessary to achieve the 2°C global warming limit objective as set out by Heads of State and Government.
As to the sectors not covered by the EU ETS, such as transport, buildings, infrastructure and agriculture, it is essential for Member States to closely monitor the situation and to put in place the necessary policies and measures as soon as possible because changes take time. The Commission continues to support Member States to reach their climate and energy targets through EU-wide measures that are currently being implemented or are in preparation, such as the Energy Efficiency Directive, the proposal to increase EU climate-related expenditure to at least 20% of the 2014-2020 EU budget, the emission performance standards for cars and vans for 2020, the review of the F-Gas regulation and the implementation of the 'NER 300' demonstration programme.
What do you plan to do about adaptation to climate change?
While mitigation is absolutely necessary to limit the impacts of climate change to a manageable degree, even the most ambitious emission reductions pathways, in line with the 2°C target, would not lead to any reduction in temperature increases beyond the business-as-usual scenarios before at least the 2040s to 2050s below the business-as-usual scenarios. Adaptation is therefore a must to help the achievement of all our policy objectives, including sustainable green jobs and growth.
Building on the achievements of the Adaptation White Paper, the EU Adaptation Strategy, due in 2013, will provide a more comprehensive approach to climate change adaptation in Europe. The main objective is to stimulate the development of adaptation policies at national, regional and local level, in particular by facilitating the exchange of good practices and co-ordination. The strategy aims also to increase knowledge on climate change impacts, vulnerability and adaptation and to mainstream adaptation into other policies, strategies and programmes at EU level.
What are the plans for a climate policy framework beyond 2020?
It is essential to start preparing the 2030 policy framework, as most current investment decisions focus beyond 2020. Business needs clarity on the long term. The Commission Work Programme for 2013 indicates that next year the Commission will be working on proposals to provide a long-term perspective on how the EU will move ahead from its 2020 climate and energy targets. A new climate and energy framework for the period up to 2030 will enable us to meet the 80-95% greenhouse gas emission reduction objective in 2050 and foster long term competitiveness, security of supply and sustainability.
How do you engage internationally to close the gap towards an emission pathway compatible with the 2 degrees target?
The EU wants to ensure that an ambitious legally binding global climate agreement covering all countries is adopted by 2015 and comes into force by 2020. This timetable was agreed at the Durban climate conference in December 2011. As also agreed in Durban, further measures to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions before the end of the decade need to be taken in order to keep the goal of holding global warming below 2°C within reach. As part of the transition to the future global climate agreement covering all countries, the EU has committed to join a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol starting on 1 January 2013.