The Next Environmental Agenda

The EU is not on track to meet many environment-related targets, which is why a new Environmental Action Programme (EAP) identifying nine priority objectives to be reached by 2020 has been proposed.

The EAP does not propose new targets; rather it puts forward a coordinated overarching framework for future environment policy, and makes several calls for action.

It also aims to clarify to policy makers, businesses and industry the main environmental challenges facing Europe, and what actions need to implemented.

The proposal is the form of a Decision, which must be adopted by Council and Parliament, and is not accompanied by a Communication.

Context

The EU is committed to achieving a low-carbon, resource-efficient green economy in which natural capital is protected and citizens’ health and safety ensured.

EAPs, which have been in place since early 1970s, are adopted with a view to guiding and coordinating EU and Member State action in environmental policy making.

The timeframe of this particular programme is aligned to the multi-annual financial framework 2014-2020 and other key strategies, including the Europe 2020 Strategy, to ensure its timely implementation.

At the same time, the year 2050 serves as a reference point for longer-term action, beyond 2020. This is because the final evaluation of the previous 6th EAP concluded that in some cases, a ten-year timeframe is simply too short to properly assess improvements on the ground.

Key Objectives

The 7th EAP proposal aims to address:
• The remaining environmental challenges ahead in line with Europe 2020 Strategy. These are identified as biodiversity loss, climate change, waste, natural resource management, water, air quality and chemicals, where progress has been mixed
• New opportunities in the area of green growth. Environment policy should make a strong contribution towards smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, says the Commission
• The global dimension of environmental action based on Rio+20.
 
The EU wants to ensure that an ambitious legally binding global climate agreement covering all countries is adopted by 2015 and comes into force by 2020

Priority Actions

These broad goals are translated into nine priority actions:

EU’s natural capital

The Commission identifies key on going initiatives that legislation in the pipeline that it considers important. These include the implementation of the EU Biodiversity Strategy and Blueprint to Safeguard Europe’s Water Resources, in order to prevent the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystems, and in turn maintain and enhance the ecosystems. The Commission also wants to ensure healthy fish stocks and reduce marine litter to maintain and enhance the water quality, as defined by Water Framework Directive (WFD) and Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).

Implementing EU air quality legislation and outlining action beyond 2020 to further reduce the air pollution and its impact on ecosystems is also a priority, as is decreasing soil erosion, restoring contaminated land and using land more efficiently to ensure its protection and more sustainable management.

The Commission also wants to see reduced emissions of nitrogen and phosphorus to manage nutrient cycle more efficiently and sustainably and the development and implementation of the new EU Forest Strategy to protect forests, in order to stop deforestation and provide better protection of forests.

Resource efficiency

The EAP highlights the Europe 2020 Strategy’s ‘Resource-efficient Europe’ Flagship Initiative, which aims to support the shift towards an economy that is efficient in the way it uses all resources, reduces GHG emissions, enhances competitiveness and promotes greater energy security.

The Commission identifies the Climate and Energy Package and the adoption of the Climate and Energy Policy Framework beyond 2020 as vital if the EU is to meet its 2020 and 2050 climate and energy targets. It wants to see the promotion and use of new innovative technologies, processes and services across industry to reduce environmental impact and increase resource efficiency.

The EAP also urges greater support for public and private research and innovation action, in order to develop innovative technologies to speed up the transition to low-carbon resource-efficient economy. It also wants to see a more coherent framework for sustainable production and consumption established to reduce the impact of the food, housing and mobility sectors in particular.

Implementing EU waste legislation should be carried out to provide for safe waste management and a decline in waste generation per capita, as should improved water efficiency measures, through using market mechanisms to reduce and/or prevent water stress in the EU.

Citizen health

The EAP wants to see updated EU policy on air quality and noise policy implemented and aligned with the latest scientific knowledge. It wants these issues to be tackled at source, in order to improve air quality and reduce noise levels across the EU.

The Drinking Water Directive and Bathing Water Directive should also be implemented to provide for safer water in the EU, and an EU strategy for a non-toxic environment should be carried out to further minimise the risks associated with hazardous substances. Safety concerns related to nanomaterials should also be prioritised.

The Commission wants to see an EU climate adaptation strategy adopted, and disaster risk management inserted into key EU policies in order to adapt to climate change impacts.

Monitoring legislation

The Commission wants to see the implementation of monitoring systems at the national and EU level in order to measure the performance of environmental legislation and provide better information to citizens. Partnership agreements between Member States and the Commission to improve the implementation of legislation should also be established.

Effective national complaint-handling mechanisms on the implementation of EU environment law should also be set up, in order to empower citizens. Furthermore, national environmental law should be aligned with European Court of Justice (ECJ) case law, and out of court settlements for potential disputes should be made easier in order to better protect citizens.

Coordinated research efforts

To achieve this objective, the proposal calls for action to coordinate research efforts at both the EU and national level, in order to fill environmental knowledge gaps. A systematic approach to risk management should also be adopted. Environmental and climate change data should be simplified wherever possible, and information collection, management and sharing strengthened.

Cost-effective environment policy

The EAP outlines action to phase out harmful subsidies and increase the use of market-based instruments, such as taxation, pricing and charging, to achieve environmental objectives in a more cost-effective and efficient way. This can be achieved by facilitating access to innovative financial instruments for eco-innovation, including increasing private funding, reflecting environmental priorities in economic, social and territorial cohesion and ensuring full and efficient use of EU funds for environment action.

 A system for tracking and reporting expenditure should also be developed, and environment actions should be integrated into the into the European Semester process. New progressive methods for measuring the success and sustainability of proposed actions should also be implemented, says the Commission.

Improving policy coherence

In order to improve policy coherence, the Commission wants to see environmental and climate-related objectives integrated across other policy areas. Systematic impact assessments of policy initiatives should also be carried out in order to ensure coherence and effectiveness.

Sustainability of EU cities

EU cities should strive to become more sustainable. This programme calls for the definition and adoption of criteria to evaluate the environmental performance of cities, and to provide better information on access to funds to improve urban sustainability.

Regional and global climate challenges

The EAP calls for coordinated work to adopt the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the establishment of a more effective UN structure for sustainable development. This could be achieved through strengthening the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), by making it an independent agency, and by integrating Rio+20 outcomes into the EU’s external policies.

The strategy also calls for the impact of various sources of funding to be strengthened, and wants to engage with partner countries - strategic partners, neighbouring countries and developing countries - in a more strategic way. Multilateral environmental processes should also be fully engaged in order to ratify key multilateral environmental agreements before 2020. Finally, the Commission wants to evaluate the environmental impact of food and non-food commodity consumption, in order to reduce the environment impact outside the EU.

Monitoring

The Commission will monitor the implementation of these programme priorities, in the context of the Europe 2020 Strategy’s monitoring process. Evaluation will be carried out before 2020 in the framework of the European Environment Agency (EEA)’s State of the Environment Report.

Next steps

The proposal will be discussed in the European Parliament and the Council. Once adopted, the Decision shall enter into force on the 20th day after its publication in the Official Journal of the European Union.