A call for political alert over the country’s national parks was issued by WWF Italy on May 24th, European Day of Parks.
As a result of severe national budget cuts on environmental policies and nature conservation, at present only 3 of Italy’s 23 national parks have an operating management board and a President. Famed natural treasures, such as the Abruzzo and the Gennargentu national parks are dysfunctional, since they cannot take important conservation decisions and lack the public participation mechanism that management boards offer.
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%).
Notwithstanding the harbingers of economic doom calling for rapid growth at all environmental costs, the majority of French people state green policies a priority for Europe.
The survey was announced by WWF France on May 9th and aimed at influencing candidates running at the European Elections of May 25th.
On a coordinated track, WWF EU coordinated a pan-European platform calling candidate MEPs to commit to specific environmental policy priorities. A manifesto highlighting priorities in nine policy areas, including energy, resource efficient economy, human wellbeing, agriculture and fisheries, was eventually signed by over 600 candidates.
"On average, 80% of national environmental laws are decided in Brussels. So the politicians we will elect this week will have the power to make decisions regarding many things that impact our daily lives, from the air we breathe, the water we drink, to the food we eat." said Tony Long, Director of WWF European Policy Office in Brussels.
On June 12th, WWF addressed International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde, outgoing European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and the President of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi, calling them to stop ignoring the alarming environmental rollback unfolding in Greece, as a result of the economic adjustment programme.
In its March 5th review on the progress of the EU’s 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, the European Commission comes up with a series of extraordinary conclusions. At the diagnostic level, the Commission acknowledges for the first time the role of resource depletion and growing energy demand in aggravating the crisis:
“A first critical step in designing a post-crisis growth strategy for the EU is to understand clearly the full impact of the crisis and to share a common diagnosis of where Europe stands. In so doing, it is also important to bear in mind that seeking to return to the growth "model" of the previous decade would be both illusory and harmful: fiscal imbalances; real estate bubbles; widening social inequalities; lack of sufficient entrepreneurship and innovation; dysfunctional financial systems; growing energy dependency; multiple pressures on the use of resources and the environment; sharp increase in unemployment; weaknesses in education and training systems; underperforming public administrations – these were issues that could be observed but that were not resolved in the past. They contributed to the collapse of parts of our economies when the full crisis hit.”
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.
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).