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.

Since the wake of the economic crisis, cash strapped EU Mediterranean states frantically promote oil and gas as the spearhead of their economic recovery strategies. Iconic and ecologically sensitive marine and coastal areas are at serious risk, in Spain, Italy and Greece. In January 2014, WWF Spain warned of a “tsunami” of new oil and gas operations threatening Spain’s seas. 

Sources: NGO announcement, WWF Spain, The Guardian.



Greek Parliament votes anti-forest law

A new forest law was voted at the Hellenic Parliament by a Government majority of 50-47 on August 5th.

The new law was heavily criticised by environmental organisations, citizens groups, individual citizens and part of the media, as it introduces a series of critical changes to forest legislation, essentially altering its conservation character. In response to a three-day urgent call by WWF Greece for public action, over 1,000 people personally addressed the ruling party MPs who participate in the 2nd Summer Recess Section. Through email messages and personal telephone calls, MPs were urged to vote against the draft law.


UK cuts support to renewables

by Anna Chrysopoulou - Through a new support scheme, the UK Government is reducing the financial support to renewable energies, while at the same time maintaining the subsidies to conventional energy.

In July 2014, the UK announced a new subsidy scheme titled “Contracts for Difference” (CfDs), which sets a ceiling of £200 million a year on subsidies to large-scale installations of renewable energy sources. Most affected by the new scheme will be wind, solar farms and biomass. The subsidy will be divided among three sets of renewable sources, the more established technologies, such as onshore wind and solar energy, less established technologies, such as offshore wind energy, and biomass conversion. Companies will have to compete for the available money in their sector. 


Economic recession results in CO2 emissions cuts

An EU-wide 1.3% reduction in CO2 emissions between 2011 and 2012 marks the lowest recorded annual greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) since 1990: 19.2%. This brings the EU very close to the achievement of the 2020 emissions reduction target by 20%. Despite however the euphoria that this downward trend may generate, the main reductions are attributed to lower industrial activity and transport, primarily in crisis-stricken member states. Increased emissions since the previous year were recorded in the United Kingdom (3.2%), Germany (1.1%), Ireland (1.4%) and Malta (3.7%).


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.” 


Will the new EU Commission aim for a brave green world?

The environmental failure of the outgoing Barroso Commission, most noticeably reflected in the “REFIT – fit for growth” initiative and the low ambition 2030 climate and energy package, has marred the EU’s profile as a global green leader. Will the Commission of 2014 show the necessary commitment to the sustainability pillar of the EU Treaty? That remains to be seen, as the newly appointed President, Jean Claude Juncker, lacks an environmental track record, yet he will have to lead the EU’s effective response to major environmental challenges. 

In his “five priorities” as candidate for the Commission’s presidency, Juncker makes no mention to policies on environment and resource efficiency. He does however set renewable energies as second priority, in a context of energy security and reduction of energy dependency from the East.

The new President’s stated priorities are in line with the conclusions of the June 26-27 EU Council, which constitute the strategic guidelines for the new Commission: emphasis is on security and justice, growth, REFIT, energy security of low climate ambition, and nothing on the environment and sustainable development.

“Juncker can hardly be worse than the last Commission president. He has recently made some positive statements – for example by positioning himself against nuclear energy and fracking – but we will judge him on his actions. We hope that he can help deliver the change that Europe needs to regain its global leadership role on the environment”, stated Frederic Thoma, Greenpeace’s EU energy policy adviser. 

The heated debates between the EU Heads of State and Government over the appointment of the next EC President monopolised the headlines and overshadowed the truly burning issue of Europe’s response to global warming: the 2030 climate and energy framework. The EU Council’s decision on this is a declaration of intent and postpones the real decisions to October 2014, after the UN Climate Summit. “While the political maneuverings around the choice of the next Commission President grab the headlines, the fact remains that this a complete diversion from the far more pressing climate and energy decisions that are now on the table and which matter far more to European citizens”, stated WWF’s European Policy Office Director Tony Long.  

Sources: J.C. Juncker, EU Council draft conclusions, WWF EU.



EC withdraws draft law on public access to environmental justice

Having for years remained in the Commission’s “freezer”, due to opposition by key member states such as the UK, the 2003 draft directive on access to environmental justice was officially withdrawn on May 21st. The Commission’s intention to withdraw the proposal was first announced in its October 2013 communication on the “REFIT – fit for Growth” plan to reduce regulatory burden and costly requirements on businesses. Another victim of the same decision was the Commission’s proposal for a Soil Directive (COM(2006) 232), which was also blocked by a group of member states for years. 

According to Jeremy Wates, EEB Secretary General: “A new legislative proposal in this area is urgently needed, not only to create a more democratic Europe, not only to improve the implementation of environmental law, not only to create a more level playing field for business but also in order to ensure that the EU is fully in compliance with its obligations under international law, namely the Aarhus Convention.”

The draft directive of 2003 granted certain categories of the public access to judicial or administrative proceedings against acts by state authorities that contravene environmental law. It aimed to improve the implementation at the EU level of the 1998 UNECE Århus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters and would be based on the administrative and judicial proceedings existing in Member States.

Access to justice on environmental issues is the only pillar of the Århus Convention that has not yet been adopted by the EU, the other two being public participation (Directive 2003/35/EC) and public access to environmental information ((Directive 2003/4/EC).

Sources: EC-List of withdrawn directives, EC-Annex to COM on REFIT, EEB, Justice and Environment, CrisisWatch.