CrisisWatch

Will the Spanish Parliament weaken the conservation of national parks?

A proposed amendment to the Law on National Parks has caused public outcry in Spain. The legislative initiative was submitted by the Popular Party to the Congress of Deputies on October 20th and threatens to institute an unprecedented blow to the conservation status of the country’s 15 natural treasures, which include unique areas such as Doñana, Sierra Nevada and Guarajonay. 

Amendment 278 states that public authorities will pursue voluntary agreements with landowners within national parks and will adjust the existing protection measures accordingly. In case this amendment is indeed voted, then the Congress of Deputies will open the 15 national parks to a series of heavy impact land uses and projects currently prohibited: road construction in Doñana, urbanisation plans in Picos de Europea, hydroelectric projects in Aigues Torres and mining in Teida and Picos de Europea.

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NGOs contest Spain’s approval for oil exploration offshore the Canaries

A coalition of Spain’s five largest environmental groups is taking legal action against the official authorisation granted by the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism to oil giant Repsol for hydrocarbon exploration offshore the Canary islands.

Despite massive protests against the planned project, the Spanish Government gave Repsol an “all-clear” licence for offshore exploration in three marine plots close to the islands of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. A series of appeals were heard at the Supreme Tribunal and were rejected in June.  

In a joint statement, environmental groups WWF, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Ecologistas en Accion and SEO Birdlife announced their intention to take European legal action against this decision.

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EU leaders fail climate stress tests

The EU’s Heads of State and Government finally decided on a climate and energy package for 2030 which lacks ambition and fails to respond to the unfolding climate crisis. The package adopted by the EU Council on October 24th sets a target of at least 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and at least 27% for renewables and energy savings. 

The negotiations for the European Union’s headline policies on climate change have undergone several phases and upside-downs, now closing at record low, in terms of target-setting. In February, the European Parliament showed leadership and ambition up to par with the urgency of the underlying issues, by rejecting the Commission’s low ambition proposals and calling for three binding targets: at least 40% greenhouse gas cuts (compared with 1990 levels), at least 30% energy share from renewables in the final energy consumption and 40% energy savings (in line with research on cost-effective energy saving potential), binding at the member state level.

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Parliament of Greece approves oil & gas deals

On September 18th, the Parliament ratified three concession contracts for blocks between the Hellenic Republic and a) Energean Oil & Gas/Petra Petroleum, b) Energean Oil & Gas /Trajan Oil & Gas LTD, and c) Hellenic Petroleum / Edison / Petroceltic. The areas where hydrocarbon exploration and drilling has been approved are the onshore block of Ioannina, in the Region of Epirus, the offshore block of Patraikos, and Katakolo, in W. Peloponnese. Also ratified by parliamentary law was a fourth contract with Kavala Oil S.A./Energean Oil and Gas/Hellenic Petroleum S.A., which modifies a 1999 contract for the offshore area of the Thracian Sea. Despite the Minister’s expressed concerns about the possibility of shale gas extraction in Greece, on environmental grounds, the ratified contracts for onshore exploration do not exclude fracking. 

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Portugal sees crisis as opportunity for green tax reform

An integrated green tax reform proposal was recently announced by the Commission for Green Tax Reform, which was established by the Portuguese Finance Ministry in January 2014. Following a period of consultation with business, scientific and civil organisations, the report was submitted by the ad hoc commission to the Minister of State and Finances, the Minister of Environment, Spatial Planning and Energy and the Secretary of State for Tax Affairs, on September 15th. The Government is now expected to evaluate the proposals and decide on the next steps.

The proposed reforms, which are estimated to result in total public revenues of EUR164 million, cover the sectors of i) energy and emissions,  ii) transport, iii) water, iv) waste, v) urban and spatial planning, vi) forestry, vii) biodiversity and other. This increased tax revenue for the state coffers will result from the introduction of new taxes, the increase in existing taxes and the reduction or elimination of certain tax exemptions.

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Italy launches EU Presidency by pushing green economy a step forward

by Stefano Lenzi, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

The start of the Italian Presidency of the EU Council was marked by the Informal EU Environment and Labour Ministers Joint Meeting on “Green Growth and Employment”, which was held in Milan on July 17th. 

Launching a high-level EU dialogue on mutually supportive and integrated policies in the framework of the Europe 2020 Strategy, the backgrounder distributed by the Italian Presidency states that “[t]he European Semester and the forthcoming mid-term review of the Europe 2020 Strategy for sustainable, smart and inclusive growth present important opportunities to strengthen the environmental dimension of the Strategy and its governance processes. Besides being a legal requirement under art. 11 of the TFEU, stronger integration of environment and economic policy together with concrete actions on resource efficiency and low-carbon economy can deliver more growth and job opportunities and higher quality of life for the citizens of the EU.” 

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New Commission fuels concerns about the future of the EU’s green policies

On Wednesday 22 October, the European Parliament approved the new Commission under President Jean Claude Juncker by 423 votes in favour, 209 against and 67 abstentions. 

During the hearing procedure, an unprecedented public outcry about the environmental deficit of the proposed Commission mainly focused on the absence of environmental policy priorities from Juncker’s mission letters to the environment and energy commissioners, the designation of oil industry associate Miguel Arias Cañete as Energy Commissioner and the merging of the environment and fisheries portfolios. In the case of Spain’s Cañete, an Avaaz.org petition calling MEPs to reject his appointment, resulted in over 400,000 signatures within just 24 hours.

In response to the criticism, small improvements were indeed achieved, notably concerning the inclusion of sustainability in the mandate of Vice-President Frans Timmermans and a more cautious approach to aspects of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). However, the Green 10 remain concerned that:

•The mandate of the Commissioner-designate for Environment, Fisheries & Maritime Affairs contains no explicit task to fully implement the 7th Environment Action Programme and implies a weakening of the Birds and Habitats Directives and backpedalling on key legislative proposals on air quality and the circular economy;

•The mandate and title of First Vice-President Frans Timmermans still do not specifically reflect his responsibility for sustainability and the Political Guidelines which are to serve as the main reference for deciding which new initiatives will come out of the Commission contain virtually no reference to the environment other than climate;

•Furthermore, there is not enough clarity about how responsibility for climate and energy policy will be divided between First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, Vice-President for Energy Union Maroš Šefčovič and Commissioner for Climate and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete;

•A number of commissioners have been appointed against a background of considerable public disquiet with respect to their competence, commitment and independence.

On behalf of the Green 10, Birdlife Europe’s Director Angelo Caserta stated that: “Mr Juncker and his team need to show they are able and willing to take Europe forward, towards sustainable development with job creation and environmental justice. Our organisations will continue to act as watchdogs for the interests of people and the environment.”

Source: Green10

 

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Greece going into deep environmental recession

WWF Greece announced its tenth annual review of Greece’s environmental laws and policies. The period covered by this year's report (July 2013 -June 2014), documents the culmination of a systematic process of dismantling Greece’s already poor environmental acquis.

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