EU activities

Overview of EU activities – environment

Cited from www.europa.eu

Our Future, Our Choice

The cornerstone of EU environmental policy is an action programme entitled Environment 2010: Our Future, Our Choice, which focuses on:

  • climate change and global warming;
  • the natural habitat and wildlife;
  • environment and health issues;
  • natural resources and managing waste.

The emphasis for the remaining years of this Action Programme is on combating the increase in global emissions of greenhouse gases and the continuing loss of biodiversity, tackling desertification, deforestation, soil threats, the persistently high impact of pollution on public health and the environment, the increasing amount of waste, and the EU’s steadily growing ‘ecological footprint’.

At the same time, the EU is committed to strengthening its global leadership role on issues such as climate change, biodiversity and sustainable resource use – from production through to consumption and disposal. Leadership in preserving our environment is compatible with jobs and growth because leadership in eco-innovation and eco-technologies can bring both.

Combating climate change

The goal of EU climate change policy is to limit the average temperature increase across the world to 2° Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures. This requires a combination of energy savings, more efficient energy use in everything from electrical appliances to cars, and a major switch to renewable sources of energy.

A first step in emissions reduction has been the introduction of the world’s first emissions trading system. Under the so-called Kyoto Protocol, the EU is committed to reducing emissions of so-called greenhouse gases by 8% from 1990 levels in 2008-2012. EU governments set quotas for industrial and energy businesses to limit the amount of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, they can emit. Firms with quota to spare can sell their surplus to firms who exceed their limits and would otherwise face hefty fines for failing to respect their emissions ceiling.

The Commission wants to extend emissions trading to flights within the EU from 2011 and to flights to and from the EU from 2012. Airlines contribute some 3% of EU greenhouse gas emissions, but the amount is growing rapidly.

Obligations under the Kyoto Protocol run to 2012, but consultation on post-2012 climate change policy has begun. The EU plans to cut emissions across a wider range of sectors, from buildings and all types of transport, and to lead the world in commitments to emissions-cutting.

The European Commission has defined a strategy for adapting to climate change based on:

  • early action to develop strategies in areas where current knowledge is sufficient;
  • integrating global adaptation needs into the EU’s external relations and building a new alliance with partners around the world;
  • filling knowledge gaps through EU-level research and exchange of information;
  • coordinated strategies and actions.

The broader picture

Climate change is not being allowed to overshadow other environmental issues. There are thematic strategies to deal with air pollution, waste prevention, recycling, the marine environment, soil, pesticides, resource use and the urban environment. The thematic strategies set clear objectives for the next decade and more. They simplify and clarify existing legislation. They put forward further legislation if necessary.

Other key objectives for the European Commission are:

  • enforcing existing environmental laws;
  • taking the environmental impact into account in all EU policies;
  • closely involving business and consumers in policy formulation;
  • giving people the information they need to make environmentally friendly choices;
  • raising awareness of the importance of using land wisely.

Balancing protection and competitiveness

These policies can build on a comprehensive system of environmental protection on issues ranging from noise to waste, chemicals to car exhausts, bathing water to emergency response to environmental disasters. These have been built up over more than 30 years of EU environment policy. Over time, there has been a shift away from just setting standards for existing products to encouraging the use of alternatives which are intrinsically more environmentally friendly. Requirements have also been introduced to ensure that product design takes the potential for recycling at the end of a product’s life into account.

The goal is to provide a broadly equivalent level of protection throughout the EU, while being flexible enough to take local circumstances into account and striking a proper balance between environmental protection and the need for business to remain internationally competitive.

This approach shaped agreement on a single system for Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH). A new European Chemicals Agency in Helsinki will start accepting registrations on 1 June 2008. The new system will provide better protection for our health and safety, and will preserve biodiversity more effectively while not overburdening industry with regulation.

All policy is based on the ‘polluter pays’ principle. Payment may take the form of the investment needed to meet higher standards, a requirement to take back, recycle or dispose of products after use, or a tax on business or consumers for using an environmentally unfriendly product, such as some types of packaging.

When environmental threats are potential rather than proven, the European Commission applies what is known as the precautionary principle, i.e. it proposes protective measures if the risk seems real even where there is no absolute scientific certainty.

An EU eco-label scheme helps citizens make environmentally sound purchases of a wide range of goods and services. The EMAS (eco-management and audit scheme) allows companies and service organisations to demonstrate their high environmental standards.

Monitoring the state of the environment and providing the EU institutions with early warning of coming problems is the job of the European Environment Agency in Copenhagen.

Funding to improve the environment

Research into environmental issues and schemes to protect the natural habitat or the environment receive extensive funding under dedicated programmes, EU research programmes and regional development programmes. LIFE+, a programme specifically for funding environmental improvements and research, has a €2 billion budget for 2007-2013. The EU funds environmental protection in non-EU countries.

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