CrisisWatch

Crisis turns businesses away from green certification

Research focusing on Italian and Spanish companies EMAS-certified has revealed that the economic downturn deters them from renewing their certificate. This trend appears particularly within the subgroup of companies basing their certification on government grants.  

According to the researchers from the University of the Basque Country (Spain) and the Laval University (Canada),  43.1% of the rms that took part in the study, conrmed that they were going to maintain their certicate, whereas 11.9% answered that they were not going to renew it and the remaining 45% expressed serious doubts about continuing. The research was conducted in 2012 and reports that the number of Spanish companies registered with EMAS was 1217.

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OECD: Strict green laws do not harm export economies

Rapid economic growth at all costs being the dominant political mantra since the beginning of the crisis, EU environmental legislation has been the target of unrelenting pressures for easing, on allegations that it prevents businesses from growing and thus hampers economic recovery. A recent study by the OECD however adds evidence to the opposite conclusion: strict environmental regulations and policies do not harm export competitiveness. This conclusion is consistent with the findings of previous OECD studies, which prove that a stringent regulatory framework for the protection of the environment has no negative impact on productivity – instead, they can work together.

According to the working paper, “Environmental policies are not found to be a major driver of international trade patterns, but have some significant effects on specialisation. More stringent domestic policies have no significant effect on overall trade in manufactured goods, but are linked to a comparative disadvantage in "dirty" industries, and a corresponding advantage in "cleaner" industries. The effects are stronger for the domestic component of exports than for gross exports, yet notably smaller than the effects of e.g. trade liberalisation.”

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Economic crisis undermines capacity to fight environmental crime

Environmental law enforcement being the responsibility of states, the financial crisis has further weakened certain national authorities in their fight against environmental crime.

According to a February 2016 policy brief issued by the EFFACE (European Union Action to Fight Environmental Crime):

One overarching challenge is that the implementation of environmental law is a responsibility that is left up to the individual MS. The EU itself does not have the authority to enforce the provisions outlined in the EU’s legal framework and tools. As a result, the operation of enforcement institutions at the MS level varies and is uneven across the EU. Some MS have special investigative units while others have no environmental crime specialization. Evidence shows that many environmental crimes are not investigated or prosecuted by enforcement institutions for reasons of limited awareness, lack of resources and expertise, and complexity of establishing causality of environmental crime. The lack of financial resources is identified as a significant weakness or barrier to enforcement; this situation has become exacerbated in the recent financial crisis, at least in some MS”.

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WWF maps “blue Gold Rush” in the Mediterranean

The Mediterranean region is currently facing impressive growth, a real “blue Gold Rush”, which has gained speed during the ongoing economic crisis. Without a long-term vision for sustainable development, the Mediterranean Sea will not be able to sustain the region’s economies and human wellbeing.

 

MedTrends, an analysis recently published by WWF on the development trends in the Mediterranean, provides the first integrated picture of 10 key economic maritime activities in Croatia, Cyprus, France, Italy, Greece, Malta, Slovenia, and Spain. With a view to 2030, MedTrends illustrates and maps the current status, future development trends and the environmental impacts (to 2030) of maritime transport, tourism, oil and gas, aquaculture, fisheries, mining, coastal development, renewable energy, and land-based pollution.

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Italy greens its national budget for 2016

On 22 December, the Italian Parliament opened an important window for sustainable economic development: the Chamber of Representatives definitively approved the final draft of a bill on green economy. Upon its approval by the Senate, the bill will be attached to the Stability Law (the annual national budget).

The bill titled “Environmental provisions for the promotion of green economy and the control of excessive use of natural resources” covers a wide range of policy areas, such as natural capital and environmental accounting, environmental liability, spatial planning, soil protection, energy, marine conservation, environmental impact assessment and waste management. Provisionally numbered as C. 2093, the bill:

  1. Sets up a Sustainable Development National Strategy which will inter alia implement the UN Agenda 2030 (SDGs) and other international and EU policies and laws [article 3]. 
  2. Establishes new marine parks and reserves in the areas of Banchi Graham, Terribile, Pantelleria and Avventura in the Channel of Sicily, also foreseeing the allocation to their proper management and conservation of a budget of 800,000 and 1 million euros for 2015 and 2016 respectively [article 6].
  3. Establishes a national Natural Capital Committee with ministers of economy, environment and agriculture and the Governor of the Bank of Italy as members. The committee will produce a report on the state of Italy’s natural capital, which will be taken into account in the process of the annual national economic planning in preparation of the national stability laws [article 67].
  4. Authorises the Government to issue a law for the establishment of a system of payments for ecosystem services (PES) [art. 70].
  5. Sets up a framework of incentives for material reuse and recycling and disincentives for the unsustainable use of resources.

As this year’s budget eases many of the austerity measures taken by the Italian Government in previous years, the Stability Law is considered by the government as a vital boost to economic recovery. The draft law on green economy sets the legal framework for the greening of most economic sectors and the promotion of circular economy, offering the necessary political and financial stimuli for a shift towards a resource efficient and innovative economic model.

Read more: Chamber of Deputies, WWF Italy (both in Italian)

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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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Police highlights EU environmental criminality as ‘emerging threat’

Reports published this summer by Interpol and Europol ring the alarm of rising environmental crime in Europe, as a result of the financial crisis. The causes of this emerging crisis are identified as: 

a) The low cost – high profit character of environmental crimes, particularly in the areas of water pollution with industrial discharge and illegal waste disposal. 

b) The reduced capacity of law enforcement authorities to effectively combat the growing number of serious environmental law violations, due to financial problems.

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Crisis results in sharp reduction of energy consumption

by Michalis Prodromou - According to the IEA’s latest “Energy Balances of OECD countries” report, 2013 saw significant reductions in the total final energy consumption for three Mediterranean countries: Greece (11%), Spain (4%) and Italy (4%). Specifically for Greece, this was the fifth consecutive decrease in gross inland energy consumption.

During the reporting period (2012-2013) the aforementioned countries have also suffered major decreases in GDP levels (3,9%, 1,2%, 1,7% respectively). In order to account for this decrease, energy intensity (i.e. amount of energy consumed relative to GDP) should be used to measure the actual energy efficiency of the national economies. EUROSTAT figures show that between 2003-2013 Greece and Italy –along with the Netherlands and Estonia- have had the smallest decreases, among their EU counterparts, of energy intensity.

 

A sectoral analysis demonstrates the different energy reduction patterns of each country. Final energy consumption in Greece’s residential sector has fallen by 25%, while in Spain and Italy it was the services and industry sectors that featured the highest decrease percentages (4,8% and 8,15% respectively). The economic crisis has had a huge impact on these developments. A living conditions index study performed in Greece revealed that, in 2012, a 29,4% of the Greek population could not meet adequately its heating needs. It has also led to an increase of overdue bills to the Public Power Corporation, that have now reached a total of 2 billion euros- the biggest share, 1.3 billion, belonging to households. Greece’s Energy Minister (until July 17th), Panagiotis Lafazanis, has reportedly noted that when dealing with energy poverty, investments in energy efficiency “mean absolutely nothing for citizens and households being totally deprived of energy sources”. 

  

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Policy highlights - June 2015

1.     European Commission (ECFIN), Statement by the European Commission and the ECB following the second post-programme surveillance mission to Portugal (March 2015)

Economic and financial conditions in Portugal have further improved since the conclusion of the first post-programme surveillance mission in autumn 2014. However, the economic recovery continues to be held back by the remaining macroeconomic imbalances. While the authorities reiterated their commitment to budgetary consolidation, efforts to reduce the underlying structural budget deficit need to continue. The structural reforms undertaken during the financial assistance programme are increasingly having an effect. Nevertheless, the reform agenda to further enhance medium-term growth prospects, job creation and competitiveness remains challenging.”

  

2.     European Commission (ECFIN), New Excessive Deficit Procedure steps published (18 May 2015)

 

Overview of ongoing excessive deficit procedures

Country

Date of the Commission report (Art.104.3/126.3)

Council Decision on existence of excessive deficit Art.104.6/126.6)

Current deadline for correction

Croatia

15 November 2013

21 January 2014

2016

Malta

21 May 2013

21 June 2013

2014

Cyprus

12 May 2010

13 July 2010

2016

Portugal

7 October 2009

2 December 2009

2015

Slovenia

7 October 2009

2 December 2009

2015

Poland

13 May 2009

7 July 2009

2015

France

18 February 2009

27 April 2009

2017

Ireland

18 February 2009

27 April 2009

2015

Greece

18 February 2009

27 April 2009

2016

Spain

18 February 2009

27 April 2009

2016

UK

11 June 2008

8 July 2008

financial year 2014/15

 

3.     European Commission, Five Presidents' Report sets out plan for strengthening Europe's Economic and Monetary Union as of 1 July 2015 (22 June 2015)

What’s in the Five Presidents’ Report concretely?

1. Towards an Economic Union of convergence, growth and jobs

2. Towards Financial Union

3. Towards Fiscal Union

4. Strengthening Democratic Accountability, Legitimacy and Institutions: From Rules to Institutions

5. The Social dimension of EMU

 

Next Steps: This report has put forward the principal steps necessary to complete EMU at the latest by 2025. The first initiatives should be launched by the EU institutions as of 1 July 2015. To prepare the transition between Stages 1 and 2, the Commission – in consultation with the Presidents of the other EU institutions – will present a "White Paper" in Spring 2017, assessing progress made in Stage 1 and outlining next steps needed. It will discuss the legal, economic and political preconditions of the more far-reaching measures necessary to complete EMU in Stage 2, and will draw on analytical input from an expert consultation group. Translating the Five Presidents’ report into laws and institutions should begin without delay.”

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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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