October 2014 editorial

The urgent and dramatic campaign of WWF Spain to avert the voting of a bill that severely weakens the conservation framework for national parks captures our hearts: the economic downturn is misused by many political leaders as an excuse to undermine basic environmental legislation and treat unique natural treasures as an infinite resource for quick and dirty financial gains. The reported decision of the Popular Party parliamentary group to freeze its legislative proposal is a sign of hope, as it proves that targeted and clearly articulated public outcry can halt the environmental overhaul. 

At the other end of Mediterranean Europe, WWF Greece unveiled its road map for a living economy in the crisis-stricken country. At a conference held in Athens on October 15th, speakers from the areas of justice, public governance and economics stated out the need for clear rules and policies that provide transparency, legal certainty and environmental integration in the development, spatial planning and economic agendas. Experts from the sectors of tourism and rural policy-making stressed the need for Greece to build a living real economy based on its unique selling point: nature. The newly elected Mayor of Kozani, Greece’s lignite powerhouse, unfolded the region’s prospects for a sustainable and healthier post-coal era. Representatives from the banking sector, a model sustainable fisheries business initiative and social enterprises focusing on green energy and waste management demonstrated that the future for a living economy is out there and that Europe, not just Greece, needs to face it as a political priority. 

As the EU’s capital is preparing to house a new Commission of historically low environmental ambition, EU leaders failed to come up with the necessary urgent and forward-looking policy response to the unfolding climate crisis. The climate and energy package for 2030 sets low clean energy targets that keep the old and climate polluting economy alive and killing and does not harness all of Europe’s green potential and talent in developing and championing policies for a living planet. 

As Tony Long remarked at the conference in Athens, “…politicians are now in the unenviable position of having only a bag of growth indicators to sell to their increasingly skeptical and knowledgeable electorates who want and need to be presented with other indicators of well-being and progress”. It is high time that Europeans stand up and demand ecologically and socially sustainable ways out of the crisis.

Theodota Nantsou, WWF Greece, and Isabella Pratesi, WWF Italy



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.


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.


Living economy in Greece

Intervention by Tony Long, Director of WWF EPO, at the conference organised by WWF Greece / Athens, 15 October 2014 


I start my intervention with a quotation from the then International President of WWF, Chief Anayaoku, at a major conference in Brussels in 2007:

Our way of living is not only threatening the health and diversity of our planet’s species, but has become a huge threat to human survival as well.

·     Societies cannot continue to operate as if the planet was a business in liquidation.

·     We cannot continue to turn our backs on pollution and call it someone else’s problem.

·    We cannot continue to call income what in reality is resource depletion.

·  We cannot claim economic success for development patterns that leave hundreds of millions of people marginalised and which stoke the fears of resentment and conflict.

We need to move beyond conventional economic accounting. We are calling for new ways to measure and record progress so that we can take the necessary corrective measures to set a more wise development path.” 


The quest for oil threatens Spanish marine reserve

As the economic crisis is driving crisis-hit Mediterranean states to a frantic quest for new oil and gas deposits, areas of exceptional ecological significance are placed under serious threat.

In Spain, the pristine marine and coastal environment of the Columbretes islands (Castellón) is about to host a new oil exploration survey. Early in January 2013, the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism gave its initial consent for the project, which will have to obtain an environmental permit from the Ministry of Environment, before the final approval is signed. 

If finally approved, the exploration survey will begin in 2015.

The Columbretes islands enjoy protection status at the level of the Autonomous Region (Natural Park and Natural Reserve), at the national level (Marine Fisheries Reserve), at the EU level (SCI and SPA) and at the international level (Specially Protected Area of Mediterranean Importance).


Sources: WWF Spain, Diario de Ibiza, Observario petrolero sur (all in Spanish)



Spain votes controversial new law on coasts

The draft law on coasts, which was submitted by the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Nutrition and Environment Miguel Arias Cañete to the Congress of Deputies, has caused angry reactions by environmentalists and the parliamentary opposition.

The draft law aims at loosening the existing coastal legislation, in order to “support coastal protection with economic sustainability”, according to the words of Minister Cañete. The Minister also expressed his hope that the draft law will be approved by the Congress and will be submitted to the Senate in April or May, for final 

According to WWF Spain, the law proposed by the Government violates specific provisions of the EU’s legislation on water (Directive 2000/60/EC), urban waste treatment (Directive 91/271/EEC), and public participation and access to information on the environment (Directive 2003/4/EC). On these grounds, WWF Spain submitted to the European Commission a complaint for infringement of EU law. The law also pardons thousands of illegal buildings from demolition.

The Spanish coastline suffers from extensive encroachment and unsustainable construction activity, primarily for tourism infrastructures and holiday housing. According to ecological groups, such as Greenpeace, coastal mismanagement costs Spain more than €100 million annually and results in the destruction of an average of 7.7 hectares of littoral area per day.  

Sources: WWF Spain, Greenpeace, (all in Spanish)



September 2014 editorial

A team of researchers from Melbourne recently proved the 1972 “Limits to Growth” prophetic: our planet is indeed finite and we’re now seriously running out of time. Another revealing development was the recent Eurobarometer survey on the attitudes of Europeans towards the environment, which revealed that: “[t]he financial crisis, from which Europe appears to be slowly and partially emerging, did not  reduce  the  focus  of  European  citizens  on environmental issues”.

People’s awareness and concern about the finite nature of our planet’s environmental boundaries now accounts for the majority, at least in the EU: protecting the environment is personally important to 95% of Europeans, whereas 77% agree that environmental problems have a direct effect on their daily lives. So, where should environment and ecologically sustainable development stand in the agenda of the new European Commission under President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker?

It is rather unfortunate that the new Commission does not reflect people’s concern for a living planet. Its structure, as proposed by its new President, and the mission letters setting the agenda for the new commissioners reveal an unprecedented regression from Europe’s good track record in green policy making. Unsurprisingly, the hearing at the European Parliament of the Commissioners-designate was also an environmental fail. WWF and the Green 10 NGO alliance rightly called on the MEPs to reject the Commission: “time to take the gloves off and stop Juncker’s environmental overhaul”, urged Tony Long from Brussels, on the first day of the parliamentary hearings of the proposed Commissioners. European Parliament President Martin Schulz asked Juncker to include sustainability in the portfolio and mission of Vice-President Jyrki Katainen and explicitly include the implementation of the 7th Environmental Action Programme in the mandate of the Commissioner-designate for the environment, maritime affairs and fisheries.   

The writing was already on the wall of Jose Manuel Barroso’s office: the crisis and the urge for stimulation of economic activity is a convenient excuse for backsliding on key, but “not-fit-for-growth”, environmental policies and laws. The outgoing EC President put the EU’s landmark nature conservation directives on the spot for deregulation, whereas the draft directive on environmental justice was recently withdrawn. In this manner, the EU puts aside all its groundbreaking work towards a resource efficient, innovative, resilient and jobs-rich economy, in favour of the business-as-usual model of quick and dirty growth at all costs.

In these hard times, hope rises from the streets: on September 21st, hundreds of thousands rallied in major cities, in a global People’s Climate March, and called on world leaders to take urgent political action for clean energy and a sustainable world, while over 2 million signed a global pledge calling for 100% clean power. In New York, the city-host of the September 23rd UN climate negotiations, 400,000 people flooded the streets. Europe’s big cities, London, Copenhagen, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Madrid, Brussels, Athens hosted rallies of thousands of citizens calling on governments and the EU to stand up as a global climate leader. 

The environment is the vital global commons most threatened by the current policy rollback. It’s high time for the environmentally concerned majority to exit the mode of silence and voice a clear demand for resilient economies that provide a better quality of life for all, within the ecological limits of this planet. 

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., WWF Greece, and Isabella Pratesi, WWF Italy



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.


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.


New European Commission does not beam bright light for environment

Under President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker, Environment will not have its own Commissioner, for the first time in 25 years, whereas climate change policies now rank subordinate to energy market priorities. Worse still, the headline of the mission of the new Environment, Maritime and Fisheries Commissioner is deregulation, instead of providing full support to the sustainability pillar of the EU treaties and ensuing the implementation of the 7th Environmental Action Plan.

In a letter addressed by the EU’s “Green 10” NGOs, the members of the European Parliament are called to vote for a change in the composition and the mission of the new European Commission, as proposed by President Juncker. 

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