MEPs press Commission on 2020 green master plan

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With 60 days left before the Rio sustainable development conference, MEPs have sent a message to the European Commission to produce “without delay” an ambitious environmental agenda for the decade ahead that avoids past failures.

The Parliament on Friday (20 April) adopted an 11-page resolution highlighting the shortcomings of the expiring Environmental Action Programme (EAP), including what it says are failures of national governments to slash air pollution and implement other green legislation.

The strongly worded resolution came as EU countries struggle with an ongoing debt crisis, prompting governments across the bloc to adopt painful austerity measures and roll back green policies such as subsidies for renewable energies in an effort to balance their budgets.

The sixth EAP, a decade-old document that is set to expire in July, “has been compromised by a lack of implementation … in the areas of air pollution control, water and wastewater treatment, waste and nature conservation,” the resolution says.

The current programme, 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.

In their non-binding resolution, MEPs urged the Commission to come up with a successor EAP before the end of the year, saying the new 10-year programme should provide an “overarching framework” for ecological action and better coordination of environmental legislation, including the REACH chemicals regulation and Common Agricultural Policy that are both under review, it adds.

Stronger international component

MEPs called on the Commission to include a stronger international component in its upcoming programme to promote a global ‘green economy’ ahead of the Rio+20 UN summit being held in Brazil in June.

German MEP Jo Leinen (Socialists & Democrats), who drafted the resolution, urged the EU's finance ministers not to water down efforts to “reduce our environmental footprint”, a reference to increased pressure for economic growth in a Union struggling with recession, rising joblessness and a sovereign debt crisis.

“We need to call for an 'environmentalisation' or greening of our tax and economic policies,” the German MEP said before the vote in Strasbourg.

Bas Eickhout, a Dutch Green MEP, backed the resolution’s insistence on stronger implementation of EU policies at home and its calls for the EU to seek stronger international environmental governance at the upcoming UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro.

Ministers seek strong Rio role

The vote came a day after EU environment ministers wrapped up informal talks in Horsens, Denmark, on some of the EU’s most contentious issues – including the ETS that faces opposition from international airlines, and the Energy Efficiency Directive, which entails a pitched battle over how ambitious it will be.

Ida Auken, the Danish environment minister who was chairing the meeting, said the EAP’s priorities should include resource efficiency and sustainable production. “It is obvious that the European countries agree that the green transition is the only way out of the crisis,” Auken said at the conclusion of an environment ministers meeting in Horsens, Denmark.

“The green economy implies that the environment policy is driven into the core of the economic policy. This is a very important signal to Europe and the rest of the world. We will lead the way,” she said.

A blueprint for global talks

Denmark also sees the EAP as providing a framework for discussion at the 20-22 June meetings in Rio.

The Parliament’s resolution urges the Commission “to present a proposal for a 7th EAP without delay” and to incorporate Rio’s outcome.

With the sixth EAP due to expire in July, the Commission only last month began to seek public input on its successor and the public consultation period is not due to end until 1 June. It expects to present its proposals before the end of 2012.

Commission officials have hailed the expiring EAP for expanding conservation areas, introducing regulations on chemicals and for mapping out policies to combat climate change. Denmark's Auken agreed, stating: “We have to do even more to limit harmful chemicals.”

Environment Commissioner Janez Poto?nik has acknowledged that the EU is lagging in commitments on reducing biodiversity loss and improving water and soil quality. In Strasbourg, the commissioner told Parliament that “implementation of things that have already been done” and better integration of environmental standards throughout EU policy should be the main goals.

The Commission has said the seventh EAP will build on the recently Resource Efficiency Roadmap, 2020 Biodiversity Strategy and recommendations on implementing EU environmental policies.

Environment Commissioner Janez Poto?nik said European environment minister meeting in Horsens, Denmark helped provide "a clear negotiation basis in the run up to UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro.

"An inclusive green economy will be essential for growth and poverty eradication, offering opportunities for all countries around the world and in all stages of development. Responding to the challenges of resource constraints and pressures requires us all to focus on clear goals in five 'pillars of life': water, sustainable energy, oceans, land and ecosystems, and resource efficiency and waste in particular," Poto?nik said.

Also speaking from Horsens, European Parliament Environment Committee Chairman Matthias Groote (Socialists & Democrats), said of the upcoming UN meeting that marks the 20th anniversary of the first Earth Summit:

"The EU will not settle for hollow words at the Rio+20 summit. We are ready to stand united and urge international leaders at Rio+20 to make commitments that are backed up by measurable indicators and timelines", the German MEP said.

"We need reliable measures to internalise the external costs on environment and communities, and to provide market incentives. Boosting environmental governance and the international institutional framework will be crucial. Parliament supports the strengthening of UNEP within the UN system", he said.

The Environment Action Programme, or EAP, has helped set the tenor for EU conservation efforts for 40 years. MEPs adopted a resolution on 20 April that criticises shortcomings of the sixth EAP (2002-2012) – including failure by member states to implement or enforce policies.

The seventh EAP, covering the decade beyond 2012, calls for the Commission to focus on these areas:

  • Implementation and strengthening of environmental legislation;
  • Integration of environmental objectives into all EU laws and policies;
  • Establishing a global standard for international negotiations at the Rio+20 conference and other venues;
  • Giving the plan a “clear, ambitious vision for 2050”.
  • 25 April: Earth Day
  • 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.

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