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.”


Green groups slam Hungarian Government over sale of state-owned protected land

The three largest national conservation organizations in Hungary – WWF Hungary, Birdlife Hungary and Friends of the Earth Hungary – called on Sandor Fazekas, the Minister of Agriculture also responsible for nature conservation, to stop the sale of state-owned land in Hungary’s sites from the European network of protected areas Natura 2000. 

The sale would not only compromise Hungary’s EU obligations and the quality of conservation achieved so far, but also go against the unanimous opinion of civil society organizations and environmental experts.

Hungary has 4.3 million hectares of arable land, out of which 520,000 hectares belong to the Natura 2000 network. According to the European legislation and to serve the common well-being, these lands should be managed by harmonizing the agricultural and conservation goals, with special care for protected species using arable land as habitats.

Hungary’s Kiskunsag National Park, the Hevesi flatland and the Moson plain are the most important breeding sites of the globally endangered bird Great bustard (Otis tarda). But thousands of hectares of state-owned Natura 2000 land exactly within these areas could be privatized.

The Great bustard is a source of national pride. The Carpathian basin is one of its most important habitats. It can only be preserved if grasslands and arable lands are managed according to special rules that take into account the needs of the species.

 The bustard is a so called umbrella species - that means that land management suitable for this species is serving the conservation of many natural values. Environmental friendly, sustainable land use practices not only affect the ecosystems of agricultural lands in a better way, but lead to healthier food supply, which is a fundamental value for the society, for people”, said Greg Halmos, Director of Birdlife Hungary.

State-owned Natura 2000 sites can only be leased with a government decree, which allows the government to control the management and ensure nature conservation. When the areas are privatized, the government will lose its right to control and intervene.

Nature-friendly farming sometimes requires the transformation of normal production operations. For this reason, nature conservation regulations are often -- including in the Natura 2000 network - in the spotlight. This is why the Minister of Agriculture who is also responsible for nature conservation, should be aware of the dangers that could come from privatizing the valuable Natura 2000 sites.

"Policy makers cannot ignore the protection of natural resources. Short-term economic and private interests have again been put before the fundamental right to a healthy environment. In the long run, the price will be paid by society as a whole", said Istvan Farkas, Executive President of Friends of the Earth Hungary.

"The conservation of natural resources is of international public interest, and it is expected to be respected by international agreements. The Natura 2000 network is part of our agreement with the European Union and the EU could also start infringement procedures against Hungary if natural value protection is being jeopardized ", said Katalin Sipos, WWF Hungary Director.

Read more: WWF Hungary


New law undermines Hungary's natural wealth

Budapest, Hungary, 28 April - Today the Hungarian Parliament accepted a bill which endangers the country's natural resources by taking land management rights away from state nature conservation organisations. This act leaves no doubt that the government has the intention to further decrease the level of nature conservation. Decisions in recent years have already put the conservation system in Hungary on a downhill run.

Hungary was in the forefront of nature conservation for a long time, having strong legislation, a well-developed system of governmental institutions, a good network of protected areas based on state-owned land, and a very active group of nature conservation NGOs. In the last decade, government decisions have deteriorated this system step-by-step , losing the chance to step up conservation in a very critical time. 

Today, the Parliament accepted a new bill on the management of state-owned lands, which may lead to further negative outcomes for nature conservation and shift the system to a point of no return. 

Hungarian National Park directorates currently manage approximately 300,000 hectares of state-owned land in protected areas, through active conservation management (habitat restorations, agreements with local farmers, grazing with local breeds, etc.). These land management actions form the basis of Hungarian nature conservation and ensure the good status of the Natura 2000 network in Hungary. The new act seriously influences the well-developed system by transferring the management rights of these state-owned protected areas to a central agency whose focus is more on state property policy than on nature conservation.

The conservation organizations BirdLife Hungary, Friends of the Earth Hungary and WWF Hungary express their deep concern about the outcomes of the act and have already taken action to turn the processes into the right direction. At their request, thousands of people also expressed their concerns on the draft by sending letters to decision-makers.

"The law accepted today goes fundamentally against our constitutional right to a clean environment, thus jeopardizing the right of future generations to health. Therefore, we will ask for the help of the President, the Ombudsman and all Parliament parties who can challenge laws at the Constitutional Court, in order to annul the law," said Katalin Sipos, director of WWF Hungary.

“In our opinion, with these last steps we have reached a tipping point. If we keep going downhill, we will not be able to restore what was lost during this process. We call for immediate action to stop the downhill run and to start strengthening the once illustrious system of nature conservation,” said Gergő Halmos, Director of Birdlife Hungary.

“As biodiversity suffers from serious decline across the world, we need a strong and reliable system to be able to face the challenges ahead. We need a system where government bodies are responsible for nature conservation and the National Park directorates hold the management rights for protected areas -- a system where these institutions receive funding for their basic operations from the state budget, a system where the conservation of natural resources is taken into account in every government decision,” said István Farkas,  Chairman of Friends of the Earth Hungary.

BirdLife Hungary, Friends of the Earth Hungary and WWF Hungary hereby call every potential partner to contribute to stop the further erosion of Hungarian nature conservation and cooperate on protecting the unique natural heritage of the Pannonian Biogeographic Region.

Read more: WWF Hungary (in Hungarian)


Policy highlights - February 2014

EU ECFIN: Energy consumption down by 8% between 2006 and 2012 in the EU28 (17 February 2014)

Over the last two decades, gross inland energy consumption in the EU28, which stood at 1 670 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe) in 1990, rose to a peak of 1 830 Mtoe in 2006 and then decreased to 1 680 Mtoe in 2012. Between 2006 and 2012, gross inland energy consumption in the EU28 has fallen by 8%.The energy dependence rate, which shows the extent to which a country is dependent on energy imports, was 53% in the EU28 in 2012.

Between 2006 and 2012, energy consumption fell in twenty four Member States and increased only in Estonia (+11.6%), the Netherlands (+2.9%),  Poland  (+0.8%)  and  Sweden (+0.4%). The  largest  relative  falls  were recorded in Lithuania (-17.0%), Portugal (-15.2), Greece (-14.4%) and Hungary (-14.2%). 

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