6th Environment Action Programme

The sixth Environment Action Programme (6th EAP), adopted in 2002, is the EU’s ten-years (2002-2012) policy programme for the environment. It identifies four key environmental priorities: climate change, nature and biodiversity, environment and health, and natural resources and waste. The Commission will start a mid-term review of the 6th EAP before the end of 2006.

Since 1973, the EU's environmental action programmes define the future orientations of EU policy in the environmental field and suggest specific proposals that the Commission intends to put forward over the next years.

The sixth environmental action programme (6th EAP) was proposed by the Commission in 2001 and adopted under the co-decision procedure by Council and Parliament in 2002.

In the 6th EAP, the Commission set out the environmental objectives for the next 10 years (2002-2012) and outlined actions that need to be taken to achieve them. The programme identifies four major areas of action:

  • Tackling climate change
    : to achieve the EU's target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 8 % by 2008 to 2012 and target more radical global emission cuts in the order of 20 to 40 % by 2020;

  • Nature and biodiversity
    : to avert the threats to the survival of many species and their habitats in Europe: completion of the Natura 2000 network, new sectoral biodiversity action plans, paying greater attention to protecting landscapes, new initiatives for protecting the marine environment, measures to prevent industrial and mining accidents and a thematic strategy for protecting soils;

  • Environment and health
    : fundamental overhaul of the EU's risk-management system for chemicals, a strategy for reducing risks from pesticides, protection of water quality in the Union, noise abatement and a thematic strategy for air quality.

  • Sustainable use of natural resources and management of wastes
    : increased recycling and waste prevention with the aid of an integrated product policy and measures targeting specific waste streams such as sludges and biodegradable waste.

Contrary to previous environmental action programmes, the 6th EAP did not propose new quantifiable targets nor related timetables. This was remarkable as a "global assessment" of the 5th EAP had identified exactly these missing targets and the lack of ownership by Member States and stakeholders as the weak points of the EAPs.

Instead, the 6th EAP promised seven Thematic Strategies, which were to be adopted within three years of the programme's adoption (so in July 2005). 

By mid-2005, Commissioner Dimas came under heavy fire when he wanted to present the first ones of these strategies, because some of his colleagues feared that new legislative action in areas such as air pollution could give rise to high costs for industry and undermine the EU's ambitions to become the most competitive knowledge economy by 2010 (the "Lisbon agenda"). In the meantime, five out of the seven strategies have been adopted.

The seven thematic strategies are:

When the Sixth EAP was adopted, industry and NGOs had different views on its implementation. Here are some of the reactions of the main stakeholders:

UNICE, the European Industrial and Employers' Confederation:

  • 6th EAP needs to be embedded in into the wider framework of Sustainable Development. Future environmental policy initiatives should also include systematic economic impact assessment and transparent cost-benefit analysis;
  • implementation of existing legislation should take precedence over the creation of new regulation;
  • on climate change: less need for fiscal instruments, more use of voluntary approaches and negotiated agreements needed;
  • on environment and health: risk assessment based on sound science should be the basis of new policy;
  • on sustainable use of natural resources: material recycling not always to most environmentally sound solution; life-cycle approach needs to be taken into consideration;
  • on policy making: better regulation needed, less need for eco-taxes, research needs more support, reservations about practical implications of policy principles "substitution" and "reversal of the burden of proof".

UEAPME, the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises

  • only opt for new legislation when it is th emost appropriate tool; SMEs should be the benchmark for "applicability";
  • voluntary agreements and market-based instruments to be prefered over environmental taxation;
  • find right balance between environmental protection requirements and favourable business climate for SMEs
  • technical and financial support needed for SMEs to be able to apply complex legislation.

EEB, the European Environmental Bureau

  • programme lacks "teeth" in the form of more quantitative and better-defined qualitative targets;
  • more ambition needed in use of essential instruments such as environmental taxation, abolishment of "perverse" subsidies, extended producer responsibility and environmental liability;
  • on climate change: 2020 target of 20-40 percent reductions too vague and non-committing for the EU;
  • on resource efficiency: more ambitious targets needed (e.g. Factor 4 by 2010 and Factor 10 by 2020)
  • not enough attention for candidate countries and integration of environment in other sectoral policies.

On the preparation of the review of the 6th EAP, 
Stavros Dimas, EU Commissioner in charge of Environment

  • highlighted climate change and biodiversity as priority areas of the Action Plan;
  • insisted that EU would not lower its "levels of environmental ambitions" "at a time when many environmental policies are being attacked with claims that they come at the cost of jobs and growth;"
  • called for the development of new instruments to complement EU environment legislation, such as "market-based instruments - including environmental fiscal reform."


  • mid-term report  published in May 2006 by the Institute for European Environmental Policy and the EEB concludes that most objectives of the 6th EAP will not be reached and that environmental policy has been politically "downgraded" as a result of the EU's Lisbon agenda for growth and jobs.
  • The programme will be reviewed in 2007. The Commission will present a report by the end of 2006.


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