The EU's 27 environment ministers have set out the key elements of the bloc's environment policy for decades to come, calling for "an ambitious and compelling 2050 vision for a green Europe" that decouples economic growth from environmental degradation.
However, green activists will be disappointed by the other part of the ministerial conclusions, which argue for better implementing existing environmental laws before creating new ones.
The conclusions will add to pressure for the European Commission to produce a follow up to its 6th Environmental Action Programme (EAP), which expires in July.
The sixth EAP, a decade-old document, “has been compromised by a lack of implementation … in the areas of air pollution control, water and wastewater treatment, waste and nature conservation,” the European Parliament said in a resolution adopted last April, urging the Commission to come up with a successor programme.
The Commission has long been reluctant to refer to a 7th EAP, arguing that environmental concerns were already addressed by its 'Europe 2020' strategy for growth.
But the environment ministers "did not share this view," according to a statement, which adds that the EU Executive has confirmed its intention to "present a proposal for a 7th EAP before the end of this year."
In their conclusions, the ministers said the new EAP should focus first on "strengthening and better implementation of the existing environment policy and legislation" as the mainstay of the EU's green vision. The objective, they argue, is to facilitate the "transition to a green economy."
The 7th EAP should build on the "vision" set out in various policy documents such as the Resource Efficiency Roadmap, the EU biodiversity strategy and the 2050 low-carbon roadmap, the ministers said.
The EU, they added, should strive towards "an absolute decoupling of economic growth" from environmental degradation, "with greenhouse gas emissions in line with the objective of staying below 2°C increase in global temperatures compared to pre-industrial levels."
The minister's conclusions will feed into the discussion at the 20-22 June meetings at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio.
The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), an NGO, welcomed the ministerial conclusions as "good news" for people's health.
"What works is setting goals with specific measures and timelines," said HEAL Executive Director, Genon Jensen. "HEAL therefore calls on EU Commissioner Janez Potocnik to bring forward a proposal with concrete targets and actions to put Europe on a path to healthy and sustainable development.”
HEAL especially welcomed the minister's conclusions on Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs), saying it gave "important recognition that initiatives on EDCs should aim to reduce exposure, especially for children, and that attention must be given to measures to identify and assess chemicals mixtures."
"We therefore look to a thorough revision of the EU strategy on endocrine disruptors which formulates a definite framework for swift exposure reduction measures," said Lisette van Vliet, Senior Policy Advisor at HEAL.
The sixth Environmental Action Programme (6th EAP), adopted in 2001, has given rise to some of the EU's most controversial pieces of legislation, including the REACH regulation on curbing toxic chemicals, tough rules on pesticides and air pollution, as well as the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) which for the first time put a price on carbon dioxide pollution from big industries.
But the strategy has been plagued by a lack of implementation in areas such as air pollution control, water and wastewater treatment, waste and nature conservation, according to the European Parliament.
The 6th EAP expires on 22 July 2012.
- 1 June: End of public consultation period on seventh Environmental Action Programme.
- 20-22 June: UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
- 22 July: Sixth Environmental Action Programme expires.
- By end 2012: EU Commission to present proposal for 7th EAP
Council of the EU:
- Conclusions on setting the framework for a Seventh EU Environment Action Programme (11 June 2012)
- Press release, Environment Council (11 June 2012)
EU Actor's positions
HEAL: HEAL welcomes Environment Ministers’ inclusion of “health protection” in 7th EAP (11 June 2012)