Brussels owns up to environmental failings

Implementation of the EU’s sixth environment action programme is "far from satisfactory" and environmental pressures are increasing, the European Commission warned in a report in May.1

The programme was published in 2002 as a strategic framework for environmental policy until 2012 (ENDS Report 313, pp 46-48 ). The Commission has since adopted seven thematic strategies on subjects including air pollution, pesticides, soil and recycling to identify measures to deliver policy goals (ENDS Report 328, p 50 ).

But the Commission’s mid-term review of the programme concluded that it is failing to put the EU "on the path of sustainable environmental development".

Existing measures will have to be strengthened or new measures will be needed in areas where "several gaps" have been identified between objectives and policy measures.

Numerous complaints and infringement procedures indicate that "implementation of environmental legislation remains far from satisfactory," says the Commission. Specific recommendations to improve implementation and enforcement will be published in a revised strategy later this year, focusing on systematic implementation failures and a mix of legal and non-legal instruments.

Because there has been limited progress on "the fundamental issues of integrating environmental concerns into other policy areas and improving enforcement", it will produce a strategic framework for policy integration, focusing on agriculture, fisheries, transport, energy, regional and industrial policy and EU external relations. It will also review Directives on environmental impact assessment and strategic environmental assessment.

The review notes that the EU’s response to climate change must be changed in light of the growing understanding of its risks. Priorities will include reducing greenhouse gas emissions, "climate diplomacy" to enlist other countries in tackling climate change, and adaptation. A Green Paper on adaptation is due later this year.

The Commission claims that progress towards a joint target to reduce emissions by 8% on 1990 levels by 2012 under the Kyoto Protocol is "broadly on track", despite achieving only a 0.9% cut by 2004 (ENDS Report 382, pp 16-17 ).

The amount of waste continues to rise across the EU and failure "to break the link between economic growth and the environmental impacts of resource use, consumption and waste remains an essential concern". The Commission will prioritise the implementation of pending waste legislation, focusing on the resource-intensive housing, transport and food production sectors. It will adopt further measures to improve implementation of EU legislation to tackle illegal shipments of hazardous waste (ENDS Report 382, pp 49-50 ).

The Commission plans to propose an EU sustainable consumption and production Green Paper and issue plans for removing environmentally damaging subsidies sector by sector. It will also propose further measures to tackle marketing of tropical timber, and assess whether it needs to address any gaps in existing measures, such as the cocktail effect of chemicals.

Other priorities will be to strengthen international co-operation on environmental policy; increase use of market-based instruments such as environmental taxes; improve environmental regulation in line with the EU’s better regulation agenda; and encourage development and take-up of environmental technologies.

The Commission also issued a Communication on its annual review of environmental policy, looking at developments during 2006.2A coalition of environmental NGOs produced a critical assessment of the environmental performance of the Commission’s wider policy-making, which is scathing about its marine and forest policies.3

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