CrisisWatch

Green laws are good for EU economies

On February 3rd, the European Commission published its environmental law review, highlighting the importance of full implementation for healthy and sustainable economic development.

According to the report:

The EU's environmental policy and legislation bring undeniable benefits: they protect, preserve and improve the environment for present and future generations, and preserve the quality of life of EU citizens. Weak implementation generates high societal, economic and environmental costs and it creates an uneven playing field for businesses. The importance of the correct implementation of the EU's environmental acquis is also reflected in the Seventh Environmental Action Programme.”

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Political tide turning in support of EU nature directives

Nine EU member states have officially expressed their opposition to the European Commission’s move to subject the directives on habitats (92/32/EEC) and wild birds (2009/147/EC) to a “fitness check” under its REFIT initiative: Croatia, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Spain.

In their joint letter, the nine environment ministers state that: “There is now legal certainty as a result of well advanced implementation. Those affected have learned how to deal with the directives’ provisions. Any amendment would require the allocation of personnel and financial resources for a period of many years, meaning that these resources would no longer be available for the much more important process of implementing the nature conservation directives. The result would be new legal uncertainty. We therefore all agree that the directives should retain their current form.”

On a parallel track, members of the European Parliament representing the seven largest political groups co-signed a letter urging First Vice-President Frans Timmermans and Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella to keep the Habitats and Birds Directives in their current form and focus on better implementation. The MEPs who signed the letter are the rapporteur Mark Demesmaeker (BE/ECR)  and shadow rapporteurs Norbert Lins (DE/EPP), Karin Kadenbach (AT/S&D), Catherine Bearder (UK/ALDE), Margrete Auken (DK/ Greens/EFA), Marco Affronte (IT/EFDD) and Lynn Boylan (IE/GUE-NGL) on the European Parliament’s Own-Initiative Report on the Mid-Term Review of the Biodiversity Strategy towards 2020.

Commenting on this historic development for nature conservation in the EU, Geneviève Pons-Deladrière, Director of WWF European Policy Office said: “We expect more EU governments to join this call and put a stop to any attempt to change a legal instrument that has proven to work when properly implemented and financed.
We urge the European Commission to use this momentum and deliver on their commitment to halt the loss of nature. They should maintain the current laws and ensure their effective implementation, as well as tackle the main problems, such as unsustainable agriculture and changes to natural waterbodies, which are causing the damage.

In May 2015, WWF, BirdLife Europe, the European Environmental Bureau and Friends of the Earth Europe launched the “Nature Alert” campaign in response to the European Commission’s evaluation which assesses whether the existing EU nature laws should be changed. The campaign makes the case for improved implementation and enforcement of existing rules set out by the laws - known as the Birds and Habitats Directives. During the summer, over 520,000 people participated in the European Commission’s public consultation and called on politicians to save Europe’s nature laws: by far the highest number of responses ever reached in the history of the EU.

Read more: WWF EU, Birdlife

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Commission recommends path to greener tax policies

Fixed in its original orientation towards economic growth, the Commission called on member states to promote greener tax policies through its European Semester cycle of economic policy coordination: “Environmental taxes remain underdeveloped in many Member States and their revenues in percentage of GDP declined during the period 1999-2008, despite efforts to move to a greener society. Revenues have however increased in 2009 2010 and 2011. There is potential to raise revenue through tax increases as well as through reducing tax expenditure in environmental taxation. 

Generally, environmentally-friendly taxation would also greatly benefit from the adoption by Member States of the revised Energy Taxation Directive (ETD), which aims to restructure the way in which energy is taxed to support the objective of moving to a low-carbon and energy-efficient economy, and to avoid problems for the Internal Market.

 

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Pressures grow for relaxation of EU environmental law 

At the latest Competitiveness Council (10 and 11 December 2012) EU ministers discussed the need for revision of the common industrial policy. In the shadow of the economic recession and its impact on industry, voices calling for relaxation of the legislation relating particularly to environmental impact assessments and permitting  procedures. According to Portugal’s Minister of Economy and Employment Álvaro Santos Pereira, “we can't be naïve regarding some parts of the Globe. We need to have a reciprocity policy regarding the treatment we get in other countries. It's not acceptable that because of our environmental and commercial policy we have lost our industry to other countries. We have to guarantee that this reciprocity happens without affecting our industry”.

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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%).

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As crisis offers excuse for fossil fuel revival, reactions mount against coal

The recent decision of an Italian chief prosecutor to order the closure of two power stations at Vado Ligure is probably the first legal case for manslaughter and environmental damage opening against the coal-fired energy industry. On another case, the Court of Rovigo sentenced two former CEOs of ENEL to a two-year prison term for the severe pollution derived by the operations of the Porto Tolle Power Plant. Environmental groups WWF Italy, Greenpeace and Legambiente have expressed hope that this judgment will signal the end of coal conversion projects in Porto Tolle. However, the impact of these important legal developments on the energy policies of EU member states is yet to be seen.

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Media-Web, March 2014

How Germany's development bank will fund a giant lignite plant in Greece | Energy Desk - Greenpeace UK (24 March 2014).

"KfW is one of the few Western development banks left that has no policy phasing out new coal investments. ¶ In October last year US president Obama pushed through new guidance from the US Treasury that it wouldn’t finance coal plants abroad - through the World Bank and other international development institutions - unless they had CCS or in very rare cases where there is no other economically feasible option in the world’s poorest countries (which does not include Greece). ¶ The World Bank also reiterated its plans to stop investing in new coal projects unless in poor countries where renewables would be too expensive. ¶ A couple of months later, similar plans to halt investment in most coal plants were revealed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the European Investment Bank (EIB). ¶ The EIB decided not to invest in Ptolemaida 5, ending rumours that it might in January this year."

Funding for new coal undermines Greece’s potential for a living economy | New Europe (23 March 2014).

"The recent decision of Italian chief prosecutor Francantonio Granero to order the closure of two power units at Vado Ligure has revealed the well hidden killer assumption of coal: human deaths and environmental damage. In Greece, plans by the Public Power Corporation for a EUR 1,4 billion lignite burning power plant, Ptolemaida V, undermine the crisis stricken country’s potential for sustainable economic recovery. ¶ In planning, when a killer assumption is identified, it is time to rethink the project. The case of coal is replete with killer assumptions. The time has come for financial institutions to clean their investment portfolios from fossil fuels and start supporting the necessary shift towards sustainable economic recovery across Europe."

Profiting from crisis - How corporations and lawyers are scavenging profits from Europe’s crisis countries | Corporate Europe Observatory (10 March 2014).

"Profiting from Crisis looks closely at how corporate investors have responded to the measures taken by Spain, Greece and Cyprus to protect their economies in the wake of the European debt crisis. In Greece, Poštová Bank from Slovakia bought Greek debt after the bond value had already been downgraded, and was then offered a very generous debt restructuring package, yet sought to extract an even better deal by suing Greece using the Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) between Slovakia and Greece. In Cyprus, a Greek-listed private equity-style investor, Marfin Investment Group, which was involved in a series of questionable lending practices, is seeking €823 million in compensation for their lost investments after Cyprus had to nationalise the Laiki Bank as part of an EU debt restructuring agreement. In Spain, 22 companies (at the time of writing), mainly private equity funds, have sued at international tribunals for cuts in subsidies for renewable energy. While the cuts in subsidies have been rightly criticised by environmentalists, only large foreign investors have the ability to sue, and it is egregious that if they win it will be the already suffering Spanish public who will have to pay to enrich private equity funds."

WWF seeks to forge new, sustainable narrative for crisis-wracked citizens| Kathimerini (6 March 2014)

"Following in the footsteps of its counterparts around the world, WWF Greece appears to hereby move beyond familiar eco-centric territory, adopting a more holistic understanding of sustainability. The campaign's agenda addresses issues such as energy conservation, sustainable consumption, urban living, and balanced nutrition – along the lines of WWF's “Livewell” program for a healthy and sustainable diet.

So far more than 1,300 people and 85 schools have signed up with the program, which has occasionally joined forces with other, more niche platforms such as the Boroume (We Can) initiative against food waste, and the City of Errors network for civic engagement. More than 1,000 people took part in a festival against food waste organized together with Boroume in Athens earlier this year."

Official disquiet grows over EU states' efficiency plans | Euractiv (6 March 2014)

"EU countries see energy savings as a "luxury", neglect building sector roadmaps, and are producing national action plans unlikely to meet a 2020 energy efficiency target, according to government officials and advisers surveyed by EurActiv."

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Renewables sink in European crisis

Despite a slight increase, Europe is headed for another weak quarter for clean energy investments, Bloomberg reports, as spending totaled a $10BN, 40% lower than the 2012 Q3 figures. The second quarter of 2013 had seen investments drop to the lowest in more than six years, mainly as a result of cuts in subsidies and retroactive measures, in countries like Germany, Spain and Greece.

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